SYDNEY: Daniil Medvedev continued to baffle his opponents at the ATP Cup on Thursday (Jan 9), securing a hard-fought and fiery victory against Argentina's Diego Schwartzman and propelling Russia into the semi-final of the inaugural team event.
Medvedev, ranked five in the world and undefeated in singles this tournament, won 6-4 4-6 6-3 in Sydney and will lead Russia against the winner of Novak Djokovic-led Serbia or Canada.
Earlier, Russia's Karen Khachanov defeated an out-of-sorts Guido Pella from Argentina, 6-2 7-6(4), with the victories giving Russia an unassailable 2-0 lead in the quarter-final tie ahead of the doubles match.
The decisive victory contrasted with the knife-edge contest in the day's other quarter-final, when Australia's untested doubles pairing of Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios saved four match points before clinching a spot in the semi-finals in a half hour-long extended tiebreak - used in place of a deciding third set.
With Russian team captain Marat Safin sitting in his corner, Medvedev broke his opponent's serve twice - and gave one break back - in an entertaining first set, where his slapping forehand ebbed between sublime and out-of-control.
World number 13 Schwartzman got better as the match progressed, attacking relentlessly.
The pair exchanged heated words at one point, earning Team Russia a warning, before Medvedev received a point penalty after waving his racquet at the umpire shortly after losing a service game in the second set.
The crowd turned against Medvedev, and the Russian looked ready to implode, though it proved to be only a partial flare-up.
Schwartzman won the second set but Medvedev recovered to take the decider, with the 1.98m (6 feet 6 inches) Russian increasingly relying on his booming serve to get himself out of trouble when tested.
AUSTRALIA CLINCH WIN
In the day session, De Minaur and Kyrgios , better known for their singles play, defeated doubles specialists Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury 3-6 6-3 18-16 to set up a semi-final against either Rafael Nadal-led Spain or David Goffin's Belgium.
In something resembling both a hug and a wrestle, De Minaur and Kyrgios fell to the ground in a celebratory embrace after edging the half hour-long extended tiebreak, used in place of a deciding third set.
"That was the most stressful tiebreaker I've ever been involved in," Kyrgios said in an on-court interview after the match. "I'll definitely be having a couple of red wines tonight."
The pair were subbed in by team captain Lleyton Hewitt at the last moment after the teams split the two singles matches, a decision he attributed to Kyrgios' irresistible form.
While Kyrgios' on-court behaviour often raised hackles, few handle pressure moments as well as he did on Thursday. Facing a match point in the doubles tiebreak, he ripped a backhand winner off a serve down a narrow gap.
In the singles matches, Kyrgios was too strong for London-based left-hander Cameron Norrie, winning 6-2 6-2, while Britain's Dan Evans then outlasted the top 20-ranked De Minaur 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(2).
De Minaur and Evans split their opening sets, before Evans eventually secured a morale-boosting victory weeks out from the Australian Open.
Hewitt then made the prescient call to put the 20-year-old De Minaur immediately back out on court, partnered with Kyrgios, instead of doubles specialists.