Medvedev hates clay

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PARIS—If anyone thought a couple of recent runs to Week 2 at the French Open and a clay-court title a little more than a week ago made Daniil Medvedev a little fonder of the red stuff, forget it.

A first-round loss as the No. 2 seed at Roland Garros—against Thiago Seybolt Wild, a qualifier ranked 172nd who never had won a Grand Slam match anywhere until Tuesday—sure reminded Medvedev of his distaste for the slow surface used in Paris.

“I had a mouthful of clay since probably the third game of the match, and I don’t like it. I don’t know if people like to eat clay, to have clay in their bags, in their shoes, the socks—white socks, you can throw them [into the] garbage after clay season,” said Medvedev, who won the 2021 US Open and reached three other major finals on hard courts. “Maybe some people like it. I don’t.”

Seybolt Wild needed to win three matches in qualifying rounds last week just to make it into the men’s bracket—something he’d failed to do on eight previous attempts at Slams—but looked very much like he belonged on Court Philippe Chatrier. He hit big forehands and kept his nerve down the stretch to oust Medvedev, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

It’s the first time the second-seeded man lost in the first round of the French Open since 2000, when Pete Sampras—no fan of clay himself—was eliminated by Mark Philippoussis.

“It definitely was the happiest day of my life,” said Seybolt Wild, a 23-year-old from Brazil. “I knew it was going to be a tough match, but I knew how to play. I have watched him play 1,000 times already. I just had to believe in myself.”

So what was his game plan going in?

“Walking on the court, I really just wanted to get the angles, try to get to the net as much as possible, try to use my forehand against his,” Seybolt Wild explained. “It worked pretty well.”

Did it ever.

Employing a high-risk, high-reward style, Seybolt Wild compiled a 69-45 edge in total winners, including 47-15 on the forehand side.

He hadn’t even played a tour-level main-draw match at all in 2023, instead competing on the lower-level Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Challenger Tour. At his most recent event, in Turin, Italy, Seybolt Wild made it to the quarterfinals and left with a paycheck for $5,950.

“His life is going to be better if he plays like this every match,” Medvedev said. “He’s going to get more money, more sponsors, win big titles. But he has to play like this. Not once on the Philippe Chatrier, but a lot of times in different tournaments all over the world throughout the year.”

At his news conference, Seyboth Wild drew the sort of attention and questions that arrive when a relatively unknown player pulls off a stunning win.

One reporter pulled out some puns related to Seyboth Wild’s last name, including references to whether this was his “wildest victory” and exceeded his “wildest dreams”—to which the response was: “I honestly don’t know how many times I have heard that joke, but it never gets old.”

Later, a query arrived about a far more serious matter: The Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors’ office charged Seyboth Wild in June 2022 with domestic violence against his ex-partner. He has denied any wrongdoing; a ruling is expected sometime this year.

“I don’t think it’s a subject we should talk about…right here,” Seyboth Wild said. “I don’t think it’s a question you should be [asking].”

Medvedev’s exit was the most significant result as the first round closed, although there was one former French Open champion sent home: Barbora Krejcikova, who won singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros in 2021, lost in the first round of singles for the second consecutive year. She was defeated Tuesday by Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-4.

Bianca Andreescu, who won the 2019 US Open but has been as far as the fourth round at a Slam just once since then and is now ranked 42nd, took out two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Top women’s seeds advancing included defending champion Iga Swiatek, 2022 runner-up Coco Gauff, reigning Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina and two-time major finalist Ons Jabeur. So did No. 4 Casper Ruud (the runner-up to Rafael Nadal a year ago), No. 6 Holger Rune, No. 9 Taylor Fritz and No. 16 Tommy Paul among the men.

Good as he’s always been on hard courts, Medvedev never was known for his prowess on clay: He began his French Open career with a 0-4 record. But he’s been showing signs of improvement, reaching the quarterfinals in Paris in 2021 and the fourth round last year, and claiming the trophy on the surface in Rome this month.

He just could never quite get the upper hand during a 4-hour, 15-minute contest.

Medvedev, who was treated by a trainer for a nosebleed in the third set, didn’t help himself by double-faulting a career-high 15 times, something he blamed in part on the wind that topped 15 mph (24 kph).

By turns, Medvedev credited Seybolt Wild for playing well, saying the guy could end up ranked in the top 30 by year’s end, but also seemed a bit miffed.

“I honestly hope he’s going to play like this later on,” Medvedev said, “because if not, I’m going to be disappointed. I’m going to be like, ‘Why today? Why not in two days?’”

He was asked how he would characterize his relationship with clay, now that this portion of the tour calendar is done.

“Every time it finishes, I’m happy,” Medvedev replied. “So I’m happy. I’m happy again.”

Image credits: AP

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