Daniil Medvedev claimed the first clay-court title of his career ahead of the French Open as he beat Denmark’s Holger Rune 7-5 7-5 in a gripping men’s Italian Open final.
Medvedev’s fifth title of the season leaves him as one of the top contenders for Roland Garros which begins on May 28.
The 27-year-old was previously known almost exclusively for his prowess on hard courts, with 18 of his previous 19 titles coming on that surface. The other was on grass in Mallorca.
“Honestly, I didn’t believe much I can win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because usually I hated it,” Medvedev, who had failed to win a match at the Italian Open on three previous appearances, said. “I hated playing on it; I don’t feel good on it, like nothing was working.
“[But] before this tournament already in Madrid and Monte Carlo, I was kind of feeling not too bad. I didn’t have any big tantrums.
“I came here and I felt amazing on practice. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, but I feel amazing. Let’s see how it goes’.
“But then you need to play the toughest opponents in the world to try to make it and I’m really happy that I managed to do it and prove myself and everybody that I’m capable of doing it.”
After a start which was delayed nearly two hours by rain, Medvedev drew first blood in the first Rome final since 2004 not to feature 22-times Grand Slam champions Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
The world No 3 broke in the 12th game where he met a feeble drop shot from Rune with a powerful drive to wrap up the first set.
Rune, at 20 the youngest finalist at the Foro Italico since Spaniard Nadal 17 years ago, broke to love in the first game of the second set and pounced again for a 4-3 lead after Medvedev hit back to level the scores.
But the aggressive world No 7 appeared to run out of steam late in a physically demanding spell to hand the advantage back to Medvedev, who produced a tight hold thanks to two huge serves before closing out the victory in style.
“Who would have thought that I would be standing here? I honestly didn’t,” Medvedev said toward his box during the trophy presentation. “I don’t know about you guys, but I honestly didn’t think so – but it happened.”
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