The big clash between two former world number ones produced some exciting tennis but the conclusion was a surprise with Daniil Medvedev retiring with the semi-final poised at a set apiece.
And during the tie-break, I felt I can play like five, 10 more points but that’s it. If I play one more set, you can do it, but you can probably miss half a year instead of one month Daniil Medvedev
Citing a leg injury, the Muscovite threw in the towel to the surprise of Novak Djokovic with the score standing at 4-6 7-6(6) after the Serbian levelled the match by snatching the second set at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan.
“It’s the second time in my life I retired like this with a pulled muscle,” Medvedev admitted. “So here, on the second point of the tie-break, I felt a little bit strange pop, in my adductor.”
He went on to explain: “I first thought maybe it is cramp and after the point I was like, ‘No, probably not a cramp’.
“And during the tie-break, I felt I can play like five, 10 more points but that’s it. If I play one more set, you can do it, but you can probably miss half a year instead of one month.”
Djokovic couldn’t quite believe Medvedev’s decision saying in his on-court interview “I am still surprised that he retired from the match.
“He looked completely fine. Maybe the last seven or eight points I saw he moved slightly slower, but it’s a shock.
“I was ready for a third set battle. I really hope his injury is nothing too serious. I know Daniil, he’s a great guy, a fighter and a big competitor.
“He wouldn’t retire from a match if he felt he couldn’t continue or to worsen his injury; he told me he pulled the adapter muscle in his leg.
“It was such a close match, particularly in the second set. I would say he was the better player on the court in both sets.
“I was fighting to try and find a way. I found a way to win the second.
“It’s really sad for the tournament and the people who were enjoying the battle and for Daniil that it had to end this way.”
Medvedev had become the first player to take a set off Djokovic in a singles match since Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon final which set the scene for a tense battle for a place in the Astana final, especially when Djokovic came back to claim a tight tie-break to level at a set-all.
There was nothing to separate them in that second set with Medvedev fighting hard in the tie-break, only to be edged out before he retired.
“We played a lot of drop shots once the balls got really big and fluffy,” Djokovic revealed. “I couldn’t really penetrate through him, he’s like a wall.
“I’ve been in those shoes myself throughout my career when players thought they couldn’t put the ball past me.
“Now I see how it feels when, on the opposite side of the net, there is someone that really doesn’t make mistakes and makes you work really hard for every single point.
“The tie-break was super exciting; and the house was on fire here!”
It will be the Serbian’s 128th final where he hopes to lift the trophy on Sunday to claim his 90th title.
Standing in his way will be Stefanos Tsitsipas, who earlier in the day, defeated the second Muscovite in the semi-finals, Andrey Rublev, 4-6 6-4 6-3 for his sixth final of the season.
“It was not easy, being a set down,” the Greek third seed said. “To have to deal with a very good opponent on the other side of the net made it an extremely physical battle.
“I am pleased with myself for being so determined to make it work so well.”
A break in the opening game of the match proved enough to give fifth seed Rublev the first set, the first dropped by Tsitsipas all week.
But Tsitsipas, who saved five of six break points in the match, improved as the tie went on and he made his move in the 10th game of the second set to force a decider.
The 24-year-old was rock solid again in the third, wrapping up victory after two hours and 10-minutes to take his head-to-head record against Rublev to 6-4.
“My mentality kind of changed,” Tsitsipas added. “I played with more of an aggressive game style and didn’t have anything by luck.”
The Greek star though, starts the final knowing he has a big hurdle to climb having won just twice in nine meetings with the Serb, including last year’s French Open final.