Daniil Medvedev has gotten away with a far-back return position in this 2023 US Open. No opponent has taken Meddy to a 5th set. Even Carlos Alcaraz, master of the drop shot, was not able to take advantage of the Russian’s method of managing tennis court real estate.

Will it work when Medvedev faces Novak Djokovic here and now at the 2023 US Open? The Russian dominated Djokovic when they played in the 2021 US Open Final, but the 23-time Grand Slam Champion owns the head-to-head 9-5.

Like Alcaraz, Djokovic has the drop shot in his toolkit to keep Medvedev lunging and moving forward uncomfortably. He can serve-and-volley as well– Novak employs that play to great effect when he wants to. Coming in behind a good first serve against an opponent perched near the Flushing Meadow Unisphere is always a high-percentage play.

That said, during this tournament, Medvedev has been slightly less predictable with his return position on second serve. He often moves closer to the baseline– but also adjusts horizontally depending on the opponent and the ad or deuce court.

Medvedev will have to return better than he did against Alcaraz simply because Djokovic is a far better server than the Spaniard at this stage of his career. Novak is a sneaky-good number two overall in serve rating on the ATP Tour in the past year. Only Hubert Hurkacz beats him in that category. For reference, Medvedev ranks 16 on that list, and Alcaraz lands at 19. Bottom line: a great returning day against Alcaraz won’t necessarily translate in the 2023 US Open Final.

So much of the men’s game revolves around the return of serve. It’s a fascinating game-within-the-game. According to the ATP’s ratings, the world’s best returner over the past year has been none other than Medvedev. That far-back position is giving him time to direct the ball to his desired place and bring the point to neutral, giving himself a shot on his opponents’ service points.

In an ever-changing chess match, Djokovic will vary his spins, speeds and placements. He’ll know that Medvedev’s forehand return is slightly more error-prone and attackable than his backhand return.

Key zoom-in here: Against Alcaraz, Medvedev committed 6 return unforced errors– all on the Spaniard’s second serve. First of all, on a second serve, that’s not what you want. In addition, Carlos mixes a big kick with some slice and flat for his second serve. The change-ups might have been effective. Djokovic’s scouting will have revealed that vulnerability. Variation will be crucial.

Medvedev said he was in the zone during the Alcaraz match. Djokovic will need to keep him out of that zone by not allowing the Russian to find a comfortable rhythm.

By contrast, in his dominating win over Ben Shelton, Djokovic hit zero return winners and committed zero return unforced errors on any first or second serve. The master simply put the ball back in play, time and time again.

Note return positions for both Medvedev and Djokovic and how these two world-class players conduct business in this vital aspect of the game.


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