Gilles Cervara began coaching Daniil Medvedev full-time towards the end of 2017 when the Russian moved to Cannes, France, where his sister, Elena, lived. Ever since, Medvedev has been on the rise.
The ATP Tour is resuming its season on 20 August with qualifying at the Western & Southern Open, which is being held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to COVID-19. The US Open begins on 31 August. Before the return of play, ATPTour.com caught up with Cervara to discuss how Medvedev handled the time off, his standing near the top of the sport and the Russian’s run to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati last year before reaching the US Open final.
How has everything been going for you and Daniil during this suspension?
Quite okay, quite good. Of course with this long time without tournaments and no matches, it’s been a bit tough. But you have to manage it as you can, also as the player is able to manage it. I think you need to adapt. It depends on all these things that you have to face every day and during five months like we did.
For fans who might not know as much about Daniil or might even be watching him for the first time, what should they know about him, whether it’s as a player or as a person?
[He loves] video games. That’s important for him. He likes to play everything. He likes to win everything he plays. He also likes cars.
You say he likes to win everything he plays. Do you have any anecdotes that show that?
I have many stories about this. Even with me when we play some games, it could even be video games. I like to play an NHL game. When we play, we fight to win. When we play different things on the court, he wants to beat me and I feel if I beat him, it becomes important for him to play against me to beat me. He has this inside himself and I think it’s very, very important to be a top-level player. If you don’t have this, it could be tough. It saves your life when you’re in trouble.
After playing a very tight match against Novak at the ATP Cup Daniil didn’t find the same level as he had last season. Why do you think that was?
He started to find a good thing in the beginning of the year and during these two indoor tournaments in Rotterdam and Marseille it was not that great. It’s tough to maintain a stable mentality or energy level for the whole year. That’s something that he needs to build.
The top players like Novak, like Wawrinka, Federer and Nadal of course, they know [themselves] so they’re better to maintain something better than the young players. That’s also what Daniil is learning. The bad thing is the Tour stopped, because I think when Indian Wells was ready to start he was ready to have a high level.
Last year and even the year before Daniil was on the rise and chasing the best players. Now as the World No. 5 he is one of the guys being chased. How does that affect him?
It’s another part of his career and I think it’s a new thing to learn and get used to managing. You are in this position and you feel other players want to beat you, so you get a new experience and if you’re ready and you accept this position, you are more ready to manage it and to deal with it… He’s ready for it. He knows about it. He knows that his position changed and all the players are like he was before.
Do you think it’s harder to get to this level or stay at this level with everyone trying to pass Daniil?
Because I’m in this situation now, I would say it’s more difficult to stay at this level. But if you asked me two or three years ago if it’s tougher to get in the Top 10 or to stay in the Top 10, I would say getting to the Top 10 is more difficult because that is the thing we needed to do. Now because I need to try to work to make him stay at this level and do better, it’s my situation and this is tougher right now.
Do you agree that the better you get, the harder it is to improve and is that difficult as well?
I think you always have something to improve. These things to improve just get more micro. When you start it is macro. You have many things, bigger things and when you get better and better [the things you work on] get very [narrow]. But you always have something to improve and when you change positions, you work on your game, then you know what you have to work on… It never stops.
There’s a video from July of Daniil working on the technique of his backhand. Even at this level, is there always technique to work on?
There are a few things technique-wise to improve, even at this level. I heard Federer a few years ago, when he came back after stopping for six months, I heard he worked on technique with his backhand. You always have to improve something. It depends what you choose. Sometimes it’s more physical, sometimes it’s technical because you want to improve a shot and you realise to improve a shot like this it’s more technical than physical. It depends on the analysis you do.
Usually the off-season is a month or two months. This has been more than five months, so did it change your approach to working with him?
It’s tough to answer, because at the beginning we didn’t know when we would start again. You don’t have the vision of the time you will have to practise. At this time for every player, for every human being, it is important to have this vision. We had it, but it was changing. It makes you sometimes change the plan you had at the beginning.
I will say the more you have time and the more you know about when you will start tournaments gives you opportunities to work on the deep things you need to improve, the things that are tough to improve in normal times when you have only one month. Then [in those moments] you cannot work like if you have four months. I would say you have more time and more possibilities to work on the deep things.
Now that you are going back, most of the preparation is done. What will be most important for Daniil to start well?
The most important thing is I would say to have a chance to play matches. The more matches he can win the better it is to create another dynamic for this season, but also for next season. It’s a bit of a tough situation because you don’t know how every player will react. We will feel on the court how to play matches. Maybe some players who have gotten injured in the past will know better how to manage this situation than young players, for whom it’s the first time they’ve stopped for five months. Some players with more experience might have a small advantage.
Last year Daniil won his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati and then went on his incredible run in New York. Did you notice as he made those big achievements that players started playing him differently?
Of course. That’s something that I think about many times because players will study his game and try to have a strategy to beat him. I have to think like this to work on [dealing with] different things that players can do to beat him.
What was that experience like for you, watching as Daniil did what he did at last year’s US Open and seeing how he battled Rafael Nadal so well in the final?
I think you don’t realise what’s going on really because you’re focussed on the match, on the goals and the way to win. You’re not disconnected with the action and what was happening. You are 100 per cent in the action and you live this like it’s almost a normal match. I want to say for me it was like all the matches, because Daniil played it like this also.
For another player it could be totally different because his emotions and feelings will be different, so I’d be different also. My job is to be very connected with the experience of the player and I think that’s what he did.