Daniil Medvedev, recent Cincinnati champion, runner up in Montreal and Washington, is having some hard court success, and as the fifth seed, had high hopes going into the 2019 US Open. The 23-year-old endured a battle against Bolivia's Hugo Dellien, even going so far as to say, "did not know how [I] won that match."
A strategic, smart player, who knows how to build his points effectively, Medvedev started the US Open a genuine hope for the title, and someone for all the top players to beat.
But if Medvedev's past matches - and indeed, his career trajectory have been interesting, even fascinating to watch, Friday's match was anything but. It should have been interesting to watch because of the fact that one of tennis' newest young hopes was taking the stage against one of its veterans in Feliciano Lopez.
Instead, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Bigger players than Medvedev have been penalised for the smallest of things, even for showing the slightest hint of temper. Last year, during an emotionally charged US Open final that eventually went the way of Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams received a game penalty for her tiff with the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, who has since been barred from officiating any match featuring either of the Williams sisters at Flushing Meadows.
On Friday, Medvedev used profanity on court, showed the middle finger to the crowd, was extremely rude towards a ball boy, and received a single, minor violation - not even a game penalty.
" CJ Fogler (@cjzer0) August 31, 2019
One might argue, as some on social media have, that the crowd booing Medvedev did not help matters for him. But the truth of the matter is that the issue started when the 23-year-old threw his towel back at the ball person, with chair umpire Damien Dumusois handing him a code violation for it. Rather than improve on his behaviour, Medvedev instead threw his racquet in the direction of Dumusois, shouted at him, and then showed him an unsubtle 'subtle' middle-finger scratch.
Any other player - particularly a Serena, or even Nick Kyrgios, who can be brash on court, would have been, and indeed have been met with significant ire for behaving exactly this way. In his past two matches, Medvedev has asked for a ball boy to towel off his face, and today called another ball boy a "small man who does not know how to hand over towels."
To Dumusois, Medvedev had said "You're all weirdos, you're all weirdos. You should not be in the chair," - just as rude, but he received neither a violation nor any warning for unsportsmanlike behaviour for that particular incident. Dumusois also did not hand the Russian a penalty for showing the middle finger, because he saw it "on the replay, and not live".
And now, a very special message from Daniil Medvedev. pic.twitter.com/hlfhhjULCA
" Wilfy (@whitelinefervor) August 31, 2019
As far as gameplay goes, Medvedev seemed not to be troubled by the cramps that had plagued him so deeply in the match against Dellien. Against Lopez, the first set started off at a fairly even keel, with no discernible shift in momentum from one player or the other; both took solid points, traded some great serves, but it was veteran Lopez who took the first break, despite Medvedev looking to be in control. And as that break occurred, it was the younger player who appeared to grow more and more irate. The crowd, too, firmly declared their unequivocal support for Lopez, with both players bringing out some great tennis early on. With the pair locked at 5-5 in the first, Lopez came to the net with an almost effortless lob to Medvedev, who rushed the net to return, only to receive a brilliant Lopez drop shot for his efforts.
Despite some brilliant strokeplay, Lopez was unable to hold on to the momentum he had built up, and lost what would eventually be a one-sided tiebreaker. But spurred on by his own performance and no doubt encouraged by a raucous, always vocal US Open crowd, Lopez broke to open the second, and never really let Medvedev wrest control back. Although there were some spirited on-court efforts from the Russian and a great couple of passing shots, he was unable to recover from being a break down, with Lopez sealing the set in 37 minutes and drawing level.
Where Medvedev lost the crowd, Lopez won it. Early on in the third, both players traded some great shots, the Russian scrambling to the net and back to the baseline, with Lopez, met by loud cheers from the crowd and planted firmly in the centre of his half, effortlessly drop shotted to win the game.
Where the third set went to yet another tiebreak, this one was as tight as could be; with only a point separating the two in the tiebreak, an unlucky net cord ended Lopez' hopes of winning the set.
" Paid man gets bored (@cjzero) August 31, 2019
In the end, Lopez capitulated, seemingly tired, and never recovered from being broken by Medvedev. Unfortunately, perhaps, for Medvedev, the on-court action did not end there; pointing to a by-now jeering US Open crowd, the 23-year-old sarcastically took them on. "Thank you all, guys, because your energy gave me the win," Medvedev told the crowd. "I want you all to know when you sleep tonight, I won because of you. The more you do this, the more I will win. For you guys."
Next, the Russian takes on German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, who ousted 17th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets; it may not be a difficult battle for Medvedev, but he is unlikely to have crowd support now.
The win marked Medvedev's deepest run at a Grand Slam, and particularly in a season where he has been declaring his hard court prowess, it should be his reckoning. There is no doubt of Medvedev's skill, that is for certain. But between the last two matches, the US Open has become somewhat of a PR disaster for the 23-year-old.
The US Open crowd may be tough at the best of times, but with repeated displays of bad behaviour in the same vein, his tennis is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.