Amoeba Tennis Arrives in 2021

My first sporting love was basketball and more specifically NCAA basketball during the 1980s. Tennis came on the scene as a love after Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985, but the 1983 NCAA elite 8 game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville cemented my obsession/love of college basketball.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels won the NCAA title in 1990 and went undefeated before losing in the national seminfinals. They had excellent individual defenders, especially Stacey Augmon, but they also played a match-up zone with morphing boundaries that made finding lines of attack difficult for opposing offenses. This defense was famously named the “Amoeba Defense.”

Daniil Medvedev’s play in the hardcourt summer of 2019 made me think of UNLV’s defense. His lanky frame, at times unorthodox shots, his running forehand often teasing or outright going around the net post, and his imagination during points, all seemed to confuse his opponents on when and how to attack. Medvedev’s unique style seems to obfuscate lines of attack. Players may think they have hit an aggressive shot to take command of a point only to have Medvedev reverse the momentum. His game seems to have few easily recognized lines or patterns.

Daniil Medvedev came close to winning the 2019 US Open. He won the World Tour Finals in 2020, but his win over Novak Djokovic to take the 2021 US Open shows that a new style of tennis has hit pay dirt. Medvedev is sometimes compared to Djokovic because Novak’s flexibility allows for nearly impenetrable court defense. Medvedev is 1.98 M/6’6″ and moves much better than most players his height have. He does not play exactly like Djokovic though. The notions that he “Out Djokovicked Djokovic” that I read last weekend are a little off in my view.

Medvedev serves to hit spots to set up his big man tennis game. That is difference number one with Djokovic. Secondly, his ground strokes are not nearly as clean in their production when compared to Novak’s. Still, he makes great contact with the ball from unexpected spots and grabs control of points when he is seemingly in trouble. Medvedev, like Djokovic, wins points when he is seemingly in trouble, but Djoker’s supreme balance, flexibility, and form allow for him to reverse momentum in a point. Medvedev reverses momentum by throwing an unexpectedly violent counter-punch that makes contact more often than anyone would predict. In both cases, at least one major title has resulted from an ability to reverse momentum in points. I suspect it will soon be multiple major titles for Daniil Medvedev as well.

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