After a returning masterclass Saturday night in a 6-2, 6-2 win against 6’10” American John Isner, the Russian will be looking to blunt the booming serve of 6’11” Opelka in the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers championship match.
And the key tactic will likely be the same. Medvedev, who normally chooses to stand close to the back wall to return, stood two to three feet closer to the baseline against Isner to counter the angle and height the American can get on his serve. The approach paid off big time! The top seed put a stunning 84 per cent of Isner’s serves back into play and won 50 per cent of return points – unheard of numbers for an Isner opponent.
If Medvedev can produce similar stats against Opelka, he’ll be well on his way to leaving Canada with his fourth ATP Masters 1000 title. He hinted in his on-court interview last night that he won’t be be tinkering too much with the winning formula Sunday.
Every ATP Masters 1000 tournament so far in 2021 has had different finalists.
🇺🇸 Miami: Hurkacz
🇺🇸 Miami: Sinner
🇲🇨 Monte Carlo: Tsitsipas
🇲🇨 Monte Carlo: Rublev
🇪🇸 Madrid: Zverev
🇪🇸 Madrid: Berrettini
🇮🇹 Rome: Nadal
🇮🇹 Rome: Djokovic
🇨🇦 Toronto: Medvedev
🇨🇦 Toronto: Opelka
— ATP Tour (@atptour) August 15, 2021
“With serves like John or Reilly you cannot stand too far back because the ball is not going to come down, it will just go higher and higher,” Medvedev said. “So I tried to return a bit closer than I am used to and it worked pretty well. I’m not sure how it will go tomorrow, but at least it was a good practice to get ready for the same thing.”
“Reilly is a player who can cause problems to everybody,” Medvedev added. “You saw that today against Stefanos, who had been in very good form this tournament. He didn’t even break him and maybe only had one opportunity in three sets. Reilly has been playing really well from the baseline all week with good backhands down the line. I’m looking forward to the match.”
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In 2021 Opelka has shown that a player can achieve a lot by winning matches at the right time.
The American has won consecutive matches at just three of the 15 tournaments he has played this year. But his runs to the Rome semi-finals, Roland Garros third round and now his maiden Masters 1000 final in Toronto final will take him to inside the Top 30 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time on Monday.
Opelka has earned his place in the final the hard way, rallying from a set down in the first round to beat Nick Kyrgios, taking out former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov in the second round and saving a match point against Lloyd Harris in the third round. He beat former World No. 9 Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals and rallied from a set down against third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Opelka was in a serious funk mid-season when he entered the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on a six-match losing streak. But his run to his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Rome (l. Nadal) was a massive confidence booster, which was soon followed by a third-round showing at Roland Garros (l. Medvedev).
Although Medvedev enjoyed a straight-sets win in Paris this year, Opelka has caused him problems in their three career hard-court meetings. In 2020, the American surprised Medvedev on home soil at St. Petersburg, saving seven of nine break points in a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 win.
In their first two meetings, Medvedev needed a third-set tie-break in Miami in 2019 (when neither player broke serve) and in Washington in 2017 (when Opelka was broken three times) to win.
Opelka said after his semi-final win over Tsitsipas that he had improved his composure on court, something which may be tested against Medvedev.
“Just like any human, I’ll show some frustration, but it’s something I have worked a lot on, and it’s just required in order to beat the best guys,” he said. “You don’t have time, I have learned, to waste energy on other things, and your mind has to be engaged on one thing only.”
And that one thing in Sunday’s final will be finding a way to disrupt Medvedev’s rhythm on return.