“Will you answer my question? Look at me. I’m talking to you.”
Like an irate chef taking out the night’s frustrations on a down-on-their-luck kitchen hand, Daniil Medvedev delivered another masterclass in losing the plot during his semifinal defeat of Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday night.
Has anyone ever sincerely asked someone, “are you stupid?”, and come out of the exchange looking good?
It didn’t do all that much to endear Medvedev to viewers when he posed that question to chair umpire Jaume Campistol during his semi-final meltdown, berating Campistol for doing nothing about Tsitsipas’s father supposedly coaching his son from the stands.
Ironically, as the commentators pointed out on the telecast, Tsitsipas really doesn’t like it when his father coaches him during games.
If this was all you knew about the two players, you might not be surprised to learn the fans leant heavily pro-Tsitsipas, leaving Medvedev again playing heel to a crowd often about as respectful to him as he was to the chair umpire.
A player throwing a wobbly is no surprise in men’s tennis, but what makes the 25-year-old Russian’s outlandish emotional vulnerability so thrilling is that it’s such a strange case.
People differ on their approval levels of Nick Kyrgios’s on-court act — the sulks you can set your watch to; part petulance, part chaos-agent showmanship — but his charisma and I’m-just-trying-to-figure-it-all-out personality can often win over even the harshest of critics.
Then you have the Medvedev outburst that, seemingly lacking all self-awareness, as if scripted to get the crowd offside, is probably best watched peaking through your fingers.
Medvedev can go from unflappable to positively flapped in a hot second.
First, he’s at work, out rallying his opponent with a cool detachment bordering on a baffling indifference from the back of the court.
Limbs perfectly calibrated, he is somehow both gangly and efficient in his movement, combining long levers and uncomplicated form into ruthless precision.
His style, or lack thereof, appears almost as a rebuke to the flourishes and preen of the modern player.
It’s in the no fuss of those two bounces before each serve. Bang. Bang. Ball toss. Whack. Unfailingly replicated without appearing premeditated. All over before most opponents would have elected which ball to use.
So where does the uncomplicated man that just wants to get on with it suddenly go?
A viewer might feel cheated by the reveal – the ruthlessness dissolving into desperation — if it wasn’t so perversely endearing.
The Medvedev experience is a little like watching Eddie Brock trying to deal with his new symbiote friend in the superhero movie Venom.
Except not everyone will go in for the Russian as their hero.
As a character, he more resembles a creation by his countryman, novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s the Underground Man, an often-proud guy who craves the admiration of those around him.
But when it comes to being adored, the Underground Man can only shoot himself in the foot whenever he gets the chance.
And so it was that Medvedev blew the Dorothy Dixer Jim Courier served up to him in his post-match interview following his semi-final victory.
Courier: I want to ask you … will you take a peek at Ash Barty and Danielle Collins — the women’s final?
Medvedev: It depends what time they’re playing … 7:30pm? I’m usually going to dinner at 8:15pm …
Courier: Come on, man. I’m trying to set you up to win this crowd over, and you’re just kicking it.
But the Underground Man is an underdog — which we love — and by judging by the jumbo-sized chip he hacks into his own shoulder each match, it seems like Medvedev believes he’s the underdog, too.
Australian tennis watchers lost their pantomime villain in Novak Djokovic on the eve of the tournament.
But in Daniil Medvedev, they have a true antihero.