The first arrivals into the round of 16 on the fifth day of the Miami Masters, had to battle hard against determined opponents while in the case of the top seeded Daniil Medvedev, he also had to contend with a bad attack of cramp!
The only thing I was thinking about is not to fall down, because if [I] fall down, I don't think I would be able to get up Daniil Medvedev
His first problem was the young Aussie Alexei Popyrin who, over the last few weeks, has been making a name for himself and continued to do so during their two-hours and 37-minute third-round battle.
As Medvedev hobbled over the finish line following his 7-6(3) 6-7(9) 6-4 victory, he admitted: “It’s probably one of the sweetest victories in my career.
“It’s difficult to think about victory when you’re cramping. I should have won in two sets and there would not have been cramping,” he added.
It was certainly a dramatic victory over the 86th ranked Popyrin, achieved in the heat and humidity of Florida after looking to be in command when he pocketed the first set on a tie-break and swept into a 5-2 lead in the second.
But Popyrin had other ideas for, despite not having raised a break point when receiving the Medvedev serve in the Russian’s previous service games, he broke the perhaps now over-confident title favourite to love with three superb forehand winners and a Medvedev double fault.
Popyrn had more work to do in the next game to recover from 0-40 saving all three match points with aggressive play – an ace, a service winner and a forehand error from the world No.2, he held for a second tie-break.
Again it was Medvedev who quickly got the upper hand only to be pulled back. He saved two set points but not the third which brought Popyrin level in the match.
Medvedev’s problems weren’t just the Aussie, but the cramp which was creeping up on him. He was starting to call for massages during changeovers and extra electrolyte drinks to hold it off for the rules are very specific – no medical time-outs allowed for cramping.
Despite everything Medvedev held on and successfully earned the only break in the decider to win through into the last 16 and jut about made it to the net to shake hands with his vanquished and disappointed21-year-old opponent.
“The only thing I was thinking about is not to fall down, because if [I] fall down, I don’t think I would be able to get up,” Medvedev said n his post-match press conference.
“There were some moments where I just wanted to lay down and say, ‘Okay, it’s over.’ So I knew that that’s the thing I couldn’t accept myself to do.
“At the end it was just that I almost couldn’t walk. My legs were not following me. I couldn’t bend it or make it straight, I had to keep the same posture. I couldn’t make a step more than, I don’t know, 10 centimetres!”
Hopefully Medvedev will have recovered to take on Frances Tiafoe who was also forced into a scrap before defeating the 16th seeded Dusan Lajovic from Serbia 1-6 7-5 6-3 after one hour and 59-minutes. It was the American’s third consecutive three setter and he is showing a measure of bravery on court which had not been so apparent in the last few years.
Two other youngsters shone on the fifth day, namely teenager Jannik Sinner and the 20-year-old Finn Emil Ruusuvuori who successfully negotiated their way past more experienced opponents to make the last 16.
The Italian 19-year-old recovered from one set down to beat the 14th seed from Russia, the powerful Karen Khachanov 4-6 7-6(2) 6-4 in a hard-fought match after two hours and 50-minutes.
Ruusovuori, second round conqueror of the third seeded German Alexander Zverev, continued his winning ways with a 4-6 6-1 7-5 victory over Sweden’s Mikael Ymer.
The two youngsters will now face each other for a place in the quarte-finals in what should be an interesting clash between two players who are now expected to rise up the rankings to establish themselves amongst the top players.
Also through is American veteran, the18th seed John Isner, who won the tournament in 2018 and 2019. He fired 16 aces in a 7-6(5) 7-6(5) win against Canada’s 11th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“I enjoy it when I win,” Isner said. “It’s frustrating when you lose a match that comes down to point here or there, and a lot of times that’s how it is for me. I could very easily be talking now as a loser and be going home.”
Said Auger-Aliassime: “I guess 6 and 6 is a pretty common score against John. It slipped out of my hands. It was a close one.”
Britain’s last hope in the form of Cameron Norrie, unfortunately evaporated following his loss to the 22nd seeded American Taylor Fritz who goes on to play the Kazak Alexander Bublik in the next round who beat James Duckworth 6-4 6-4 to progress.
The players exchanged breaks in the first two sets with Norrie levelling after losing the opener. However it was Fritz who went on to dominate the decider breaking Norrie’s serve twice and holding his own, to wrap up a 6-4 3-6 6-1 success.
Norrie managed nine aces to seven from Fritz but could only convert one of his four break point chances.
But he has still made a fine start to the season, having beaten Grigor Dimitrov in the previous round following his run to the semis at Delray Beach.