NEW YORK — The man the U.S. Open crowds love to hate, Daniil Medvedev, thought he might need to quit early in the first set of his quarterfinal after pulling a muscle in his upper left leg.
His opponent, three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, never believed Medvedev would stop. Wawrinka was right. And now the No. 5-seeded Medvedev, the best player on the men’s tour on hard courts in recent weeks, is headed to his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Medvedev has drawn plenty of attention at Flushing Meadows for the way he sarcastically thanked booing crowds, trolling them by suggesting their venom was why he kept winning. Now maybe folks will pay more attention to the 23-year-old Russian’s unusual brand of shape-shifting tennis, which carried him past Wawrinka 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on Tuesday despite 12 double-faults and a body that’s just short of breaking down.
"I felt the way I won was quite ugly," Medvedev said, "because that’s what I had to do."
Asked how he’d describe his relationship with the fans in New York, who jeered him when he was introduced in Arthur Ashe Stadium but offered cheers later, Medvedev replied: "I have two words. First one, for sure, ‘electric,’ because it’s electric. And second one, ‘controversy."’
"So many people like my interviews. So many people don’t like me," he said with a smile. "I can just say: I try to be myself, guys."
Reprising his professional wrestling persona briefly, he added, "I have to say, ‘Sorry, guys.’ And, ‘Thank you,"’ and then laughed.
In the semifinals, Medvedev will face the winner of Tuesday night’s match between Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov.
Medvedev began his match with strips of black tape along his right upper arm and both upper legs, remnants of issues developed over a couple of long matches earlier in the tournament, as well as being the busiest man in the business. He leads the tour in match wins in 2019, and also is coming off reaching the finals at three hard-court tuneup tournaments in a row.
Federer, for example, entered only one such event, and went 1-1.
Wawrinka said he wasn’t too preoccupied by Medvedev’s visits from a trainer in the first set, knowing the guy had been complaining after previous matches about health issues.
"He’s still winning, still playing well, and still playing better and better the more the match goes on," said Wawrinka, the 2016 U.S. Open champion who was up two sets to none in the fourth round when defending champ Novak Djokovic retired from their match with a shoulder injury. "I saw him play the last few matches and been saying he has pain, and for sure he has pain. Some players like to show everybody they have pain. Some others hide it."
After rushing the net when openings presented in the first set, Medvedev shifted gears in the second, using a mix of drop shots and lobs to shorten points. It worked. Even after a dip in the third set, Medvedev reasserted himself in the fourth.
The last quarterfinals are Wednesday: Rafael Nadal vs. No. 20 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, and No. 13 Gael Monfils of France vs. No. 24 Matteo Berrettini of Italy.
One thing that could benefit Medvedev is that both men’s semifinals are Friday, so he gets two full days to rest and try to recuperate before he needs to play again.
Turns out that was a welcome surprise to him.
"I’m feeling really lucky about it, because I didn’t know this before the match or during the match. As soon as I went out of the court, somebody told me that: ‘Now you have two days.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I didn’t know," he said. "I thought it was going to be normal — one day off, (then) you go to play. That’s a huge advantage, regarding what happened to my leg. … I think it should be OK."