Medvedev has heart in it now

Paris' `happiest man' ousts favored Kuerten

June 03, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

PARIS -- You could get to like Andrei Medvedev.

On Court Central yesterday, dressed in a baggy white shirt and black and white plaid shorts that made him look more ready for a backyard barbecue than a tennis match, he blitzed French Open favorite Gustavo Kuerten, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

And then he came into his post-match interview and wowed his audience with grace, humor and goodwill.

"What you see here is the difference between a miserable playing guy and a happy playing guy," Medvedev said. "Who do you think is going to win? I am the happiest man in the world, really. I can't imagine anyone being happier than me.

"You know, when there is love, you are inspired. You write poems, you can write music, you can play good tennis."

Reporters laughed.

"No, really, it is true," he said. "I am in love with a girl."

In Paris, the City of Love, who could argue?

And on a day that began with a whole city being upset by a strike that closed the subways, who could think it strange that the French Open would have a couple of upsets of its own in yesterday's men's quarterfinals?

Joining Medvedev in the bottom half of the men's semifinals is Fernando Meligeni of Brazil, who stunned last year's French Open runner-up, Alex Corretja, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.

"It's not normal, for sure, these scores," said Meligeni after his victory. "But tennis is like this. Look at the other match. Kuerten has been playing wonderful tennis, but not today. Maybe it was the wind, but Andrei played good, too."

Once the No. 4 player in the world in 1994, Medvedev had fallen into a terrible slump. His ranking dropped, he said, "faster than a tennis ball being dropped from a high building," all the way to No. 105. And worse, he didn't even care.

"I think I must have been half-dead for the last year," he said. "Then, one day, about six weeks ago, I really started to think that I'm 105 in the world. I thought that perhaps it's not the position where I would like to see myself. Perhaps there is some good tennis left in me."

Medvedev said that over the past two months he has fallen in love twice, all over again, with tennis and with longtime girlfriend Anke Huber, who plays on the women's pro tennis tour.

His game has improved dramatically.

As early as the second round, when he ousted No. 2 seed Pete Sampras in four sets, it was apparent Medvedev had rediscovered something. Yesterday, when he upset No. 8 Kuerten, it appeared child's play for him. That Kuerten had won here two years ago and has been the best clay-court player this season made no impact on the 24-year-old from Kiev, Ukraine.

"My ball did not hurt him," said Kuerten, who was conquered in part by Medvedev's drop volleys. "I was fighting, but I think he could adapt his game better than me. He was aggressive, and I really couldn't play any part of the game the way I like."

Medvedev said he picked Kuerten to win this tournament and yesterday only wanted to find out if he could stay with the Brazilian's power and pace. He found he could.

"I know it from my own experience, when the opponent is playing on your level and you really have to dig down inside of you and bring something that you haven't made before in the four matches that you play, it is very difficult," Medvedev said. "And for him, I don't think he was prepared.

"I think it's the first time that he has played the tournament as a clear favorite. It is pressure. And, if he wins he could become No. 1. That's pressure. A chance to win his second Grand Slam, more pressure. Everyone is talking -- America, Europe, even Ukraine, `Gustavo is the favorite to win the French Open.' He reads all that, believe me. He brings his family, he brings his friends. It's lots of pressure."

"Facing all that, it is very, very hard to dig inside and get the best out of yourself."

Medvedev hasn't gotten this much out of his tennis and hasn't felt this sure of his game in perhaps six years. A great part of that has been because Huber re-entered his life.

Their relationship goes back to 1994. Then, they were two 19-year-olds who were shy about it and tried to keep it quiet. Now, he said, "We realize there is nothing wrong with two tennis players being in love.

"We have been together off and on a few times in these years. Then there was a long spell where we were apart. But there is just something special about Anke. There must be, otherwise I wouldn't -- we wouldn't be coming back to each other all the time.

"I don't know if playing so well is 100 percent connected to my private life, but I know some of it is and that everything has come together."

Medvedev said he is the possessor of a second chance in a second life. He made it to the French semifinals in 1993 and lost. This time, with private life in order, his fitness improved and his game together, he told friends that he was ready to compete.

His friends had doubts, "But I told them, `Listen, I'm ready. It doesn't matter that I haven't played a match in one month. It doesn't matter that I have not won two matches in a row since October last year.' I just felt good about myself.

He felt sure he could meet the pace he saw his future opponents setting in other clay-court matches. And he was right. Because at the moment, playing in those plaid practice shorts, Medvedev has a Grand Slam tournament on which to concentrate.

"You know, it's inspiration," Medvedev said, "For me, it's like a dream. First, a miracle that I got in it, because I was right on the line of the cut. And now, to be in the semifinals. Really, I just want to keep my eyes closed and let this dream end without waking up."

Pub Date: 6/03/99

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