By AJ Eccles
There’s a magic about Indian Wells, an oasis in the California desert that annually makes and breaks tennis dreams on the cusp of American springtime. It’s easy to get lost in such a wilderness, but the esteemed event is a place where many have discovered themselves. Indian Wells is not a major, it’s not the Olympics, it’s not the Championships…but it carries a mystic promise: If you can win here, you can win anywhere.
Daniil Medvedev, a major champion and hard-court phenom, has spent the past 12 months wandering a personal wasteland. The mental scars of losing the 2022 Australian Open final from a two-set lead have been apparent. As much as he’s tried to play down the lingering psychological tumult, his self-reflection following the loss has echoed in every disappointment since: “From now on I’m playing for myself,” Medvedev told journalists. “The kid stopped dreaming. The kid is going to play for himself.”
There are signs that Medvedev’s inner child is ready to dream again. Last week the Qatari desert played host to some much-needed ATP group therapy: Medvedev faced off in the final of Doha against Andy Murray, still on the road to recovery four years after hip surgery and a dummy retirement. There they were, two men from different and opposing corners of the world, battling against their inner demons as much as each other. Medvedev prevailed.
This week, in Dubai, his results have continued to impress. During his quarterfinal appearance against Borna Coric, Medvedev found his zone and closed out the match from a 0–2 deficit, winning 21 consecutive points. In the semifinal, his mental toughness overcame the ultimate test with a straight sets victory over the ATP’s chief dream-killer, Novak Djokovic. An opportunity to claim consecutive trophies is in play.
Healing is hard. Forehands and backhands are not the sole purveyors of victory in tennis: You’ve got to have a short memory, and so does your body. Andy Murray’s joints are likely too worn for a full recovery, but Medvedev’s quest to heal his inner child? There’s time. What better place for spiritual healing than an oasis?
Medvedev hasn’t thrived on the sun-soaked courts of Indian Wells, where he’s never progressed beyond the fourth round. Something about California cool hasn’t vibed with Medvedev, whose greatest success has come when he’s embraced the aggro swagger of New York City. But the pressures on him have shifted. Last year he arrived at Indian Wells as a new world No. 1, weighed down by Melbourne’s missed opportunity. He is now world No. 7, his star just slightly dimmed, his potential shining as bright as ever.
What if the road to your dreams runs from one desert to another? Perhaps you can find them beneath a canopy of California palms.
Above: Daniil Medvedev with his coach, Gilles Cervara, from Racquet No. 13. (Sam Hellman)