In 2019, at the end of the men’s third round match in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the boos for a young Russian tennis player that had just won were loud and sustained. Any normal personal would have wilted under the collective negativity of 14,000 people but not Medvedev, it energized him. After he shook his opponents hand, he lifted his arms wide above his head and, like a professional wrestler, he scooped the air with his hands in a bring it on gesture that made the crowd explode into a fresh wave of boos.
During the interview he told the crowd, “Thank you guys, because of your energy tonight it gave me the win… I want all of you to know that when you sleep tonight, I won because of you.” He turned his face up to the booing crowd, lifted his arms, closed his eyes and allowed himself to be showered with boos. He then collected his things and exited the court triumphantly.
This was a shocking display to New Yorkers. Every single tennis player that plays at the US Open goes out of their way to pander to the crowd so that they will not turn on them and become a second opponent to battle during a tough match. It’s embarrassing and transparent, really. After each win the tennis players all say the same thing, “I’d like to thank the crowd! No better crowd than the NYC crowd! I couldn’t have done it without you!” Blah blah blah. And the crowd eats it up and thinks it’s genuine when really the tennis player is just feeding the beast what it wants. It’s the only thing I hate about the tournament.
That year, Medvedev, a little known 23 year old player from Russia ranked 5th in the world, flipped the script. In his third round, the tall and awkward looking Medvedev was playing the older, more accomplished Spanish player Feliciano Lopez. Lopez, at 37, was the sentimental favorite. The match was great with both players doing excellent shot making until Medvedev missed and angrily snatched a towel out of the hands of a ball kid, triggering the first round of boos. In a reaction to the boos, Medvedev then flipped off the crowd when the chair umpire wasn’t looking and the crowd erupted into absolutely gleeful booing. The cameras also caught his gesture which was then rebroadcast nationwide and onto all the screens throughout the entire US Open venue.
He later apologized for both the rough treatment of the ball kid and the gesture saying, “I’m not happy about it, but I have to deal with it.” The apology didn’t change the New York crowd’s mind, his reputation as a villain was sealed. In the fourth round, the crowd booed him steadily. He beat Dominik Kopfer in four sets. After his win he skipped to the net, shook his opponent’s hand and then in the on court interview he thanked the crowd. “You guys being against me, you gave me so much energy to win, thank you!!” The crowd booed loudly as he walked to the locker room.
Before his quarter final match against the Swiss 3 time major winner Wawrinka, Medvedev explained about the crowd that “They kind of don’t understand that they shouldn’t do it. I feed from the energy and that’s what I’m doing this tournament.” He beat Wawrinka in four sets and went on to dismiss Dimitrov in the semis in straight sets.
On the day of the finals not only was he facing one of the greatest, most beloved champions to ever live, Rafael Nadal, but also a triple tiered crowd of 23,000 rabid tennis fans ready to cheer on the dismantling of the scrawny, pestilent, unapologetic Russian player.
For the first two sets Medvedev looked overwhelmed and listless. Nadal took the first two sets 7/5 6/3 and broke his serve to start the third. The crowd, sensing a short final, began cheering on Medvedev in hopes of getting at least a fourth set. Medvedev improved his game and began getting to everything that Nadal dished out. He took the third set to the ecstatic cheers of the New York fans.
When he won the fourth set to even the match, the crowd went out of its mind. This kid has heart! The New York fans were in love. Nadal and Medvedev went stroke for stroke in the 5th set but Nadal finally broke his younger opponent down and won the match 6/4 in the final set.
Nadal flopped down on the court, exhausted and relieved and then went to his chair and cried.
If his playing hadn’t won over every member of the crowd then his on court remarks during the trophy ceremony did. Medvedev was humble and open hearted saying, “I just want to thank all the fans throughout this week who supported me. You guys gave me amazing energy. You were booing me for a reason. I never said that it was not. But you guys see that I can also change because I’m a human being. I can make mistakes, and again, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.” The crowd erupted, but this time in cheers.
Let’s all try to be inspired by Medvedev as he enters the quarter final as a heavy favorite in the Australian Open this week. In 2019 he stayed true to himself, didn’t pander to the crowd and people please because it would be easier for him. He had his feelings and bad behaviors and instead of melting into a puddle of shame, he embraced the negativity and turned it around as a positive. He kept doing the hard work and stayed focus and, in the end, he became beloved because he remained unapologetically himself.
Medvedev went on to win the 2021 US Open, defeating Djokovic in straight sets.
This week in Australia, he once again played through the boos of a rowdy crowd but this time it was just because the crowd wanted their lazy and talented country man, Nick Kyrgios to win. When Medvedev would miss a serve the crowd would cheer and then as he prepared his second serve they would boo loudly. Did the bad sportsmanship of the crowd distract Medvedev? Of course not. Did he have something to say about it in the post match interview? Yes. When asked what he thought of the boos he replied, “It’s not everyone who is doing it but those who are doing it probably have a low IQ.”