By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. Open finalist Daniil Medvedev will be expected to build on his breakthrough 2019 season at the Australian Open but will need to keep his cool in the Melbourne heat for a chance win his first Grand Slam title.
The gangly 23-year-old, who last year became the first Russian man to reach a Grand Slam final since Marat Safin in 2005, has stunned opponents with unconventional tactics, exhausting them with flat backhands and endless rallies.
His unique style and enigmatic persona left few people indifferent in the tennis world last year.
Currently fourth in the rankings, the Russian has carved out a love-hate relationship with fans who have commended him for his skill but have sometimes chided him for on-court tantrums that have angered opponents.
Medvedev led the ATP Tour last year with 59 overall wins, capturing two consecutive ATP Masters titles. He kicked off his best-ever season with a strong start at the last Australian Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in the round of 16.
But his most memorable performances came in his U.S. Open run, where he lost in the final to Rafael Nadal in a grueling five-hour match in which he rallied from two sets down.
But Medvedev's consistency and endurance on the court are paired with a fiery temper that has at times antagonized crowds and jeopardized his concentration - something he will need to steer clear from at the Australian Open.
"Obviously after my last season, I have a lot of big expectations for 2020, but first of all I need to stay lucid and take it all match-by-match," Medvedev told Ubitennis website.
Medvedev's erratic court behavior at the U.S. Open, which included a middle finger directed at crowd, verbal abuse and a thrown racket among other offences, saw him consistently booed by spectators in New York.
Medvedev, who later apologized profusely for his conduct and made up with fans, said the negative energy had given him the boost he needed to reach the final. The boos, then, were replaced by cheers.
He will arrive in Melbourne full of confidence after pushing Djokovic to the absolute limit in marathon match at the ATP Cup where he helped Russia reach the semi-finals.
"It seems like he's a machine," Djokovic said after his two-hour 48 minute duel.
Perhaps in Melbourne Medvedev will surround himself with more positive than negative energy and if he does he could well be the one to break the stranglehold of the game's top silverware by the big three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.
"If not, that's the strength of these guys that they are always there, always in the semi-finals, finals of Slams, and that's the most important," Medvedev said.
"I think I'm not that far, but to stay not that far and maybe get even closer, I have to continue to work hard."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)