Medvedev makes his mark on clay by beating Rune for Italian Open title

ROME (AP) — Daniil Medvedev hadn’t won a single match in his three previous appearances at the Italian Open.

Now he’s won the tournament.

The Russian beat rising 20-year-old Danish player Holger Rune 7-5, 7-5 on Sunday for the first clay-court trophy of a career that includes the 2021 U.S. Open title and a period at No. 1 in the rankings.

Medvedev was previously known almost exclusively for his prowess on hard courts, with 18 of his previous 19 titles coming on that surface — the other was on grass in Mallorca. But he now must be considered a contender at the French Open — the clay-court Grand Slam — which starts next Sunday.

There’s room for a new champion at Roland Garros after 14-time winner Rafael Nadal announced on Thursday that he won’t be competing in the tournament because of a lingering hip injury that has sidelined him since January.

“Honestly, I didn’t believe much I can win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because usually I hated it. I hated playing on it. I don’t feel good on it, like nothing was working,” Medvedev said.

“(But) before this tournament already in Madrid and Monte Carlo, I was kind of feeling not too bad. I didn’t have any big tantrums," Medvedev added. "I came here and I felt amazing on practice. ... I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, but I feel amazing. Let’s see how it goes.’ But then you need to play the toughest opponents in the world to try to make it. And I’m really happy that I managed to do it and prove myself and everybody that I’m capable of doing it.”

Medvedev also felt great after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the semifinals, after which he celebrated with a little dance.

Rune, who eliminated six-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, should also leave the Foro Italico confident for Paris. He was also the runner-up to Andrey Rublev at the Monte Carlo Masters last month and then won a clay title in Munich.

“Maybe put too many expectations on myself, even though I told myself not to,” Rune said. "I served probably worse today than I did the recent matches. That’s also a big factor because Medvedev, he likes to grind. If he gets a chance to grind, it’s going to be long rallies, as you saw some of the points were.”

The final started nearly two hours late due to a rain delay — a day after the Medvedev-Tsitsipas match was interrupted by rain suspensions for a total of nearly 4 ½ hours.

Earlier Sunday, organizers announced that they plan to install a retractable roof over Campo Centrale by 2026.

When the new rankings are released on Monday, Medvedev will rise to No. 2 and Carlos Alcaraz will return to No. 1, while Djokovic will drop from No. 1 to No. 3. Alcaraz, Medvedev and Djokovic therefore will be seeded first, second and third, respectively, at the French Open.

When Medvedev broke Rune’s serve to win the first set, he did it by producing a blistering backhand return cross-court winner from deep in the corner and then ran down a drop shot with ease to set up a comfortable forehand winner.

Rune hung his hands on his knees when Medvedev won a draining 21-shot rally midway through the second.

Medvedev missed two swinging forehand volleys to hand Rune a break and a 4-3 lead in the second but Rune couldn’t serve it out and Medvedev evened the set at 5-5 and then broke again in the final game.

When Rune’s forehand was overruled by the chair umpire and called out on Medvedev’s second championship point, Medvedev dropped down to the clay on his knees to celebrate.

“I have to say thanks to Carlos (Bernades, the chair umpire),” Medvedev said. “Because I actually felt the last ball was in. And it was out by far. … Thanks a lot. Otherwise, I would continue the point."

Medvedev dropped only one set — to Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the third round — over his six matches.

“I mean, who would have thought that I would be standing here? I honestly didn’t,” Medvedev said toward his box during the trophy presentation. “I don’t know about you guys, but I honestly didn’t think so. But it happened.”

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports