Medvedev earns US Open cheers during and after loss to Nadal

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              Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, reacts after winning the fourth set against Rafael Nadal, of Spain, during the men's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine this a week ago: U.S. Open fans going crazy for Daniil Medvedev.

The guy who they loved to boo, who defiantly told them the more they jeered him, the more he would win, was suddenly hearing cheers Sunday.

Medvedev earned them with the way he played.

And with how he acted.

A spirited effort on the court was followed by humble words after it, as he congratulated Rafael Nadal and saluted the crowd following his 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 loss in his first Grand Slam final.

“I mean, was amazing match. It’s an amazing story,” Medvedev said. “All this summer is amazing for me. I will remember every moment of it.”

The 23-year-old Russian was humorous during his postmatch remarks, providing a little more entertainment to a crowd that had already been treated to 4 hours, 50 minutes of it during a riveting match that seemed would be over much, much earlier.

Nadal had won the first sets and then broke Medvedev’s serve for a 3-2 lead in the third. Nobody had come back to win from two sets down in the U.S. Open final in 70 years, and Nadal had lost only once in a Grand Slam tournament when he had that lead.

But Medvedev kept fighting, aided by a crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium that wanted to stay a little longer.

Turns out, they stayed a lot longer.

“Amazing performance and he will learn from this to be stronger and stronger,” said Gilles Cervara, Medvedev’s coach. “It was a great match. We are very disappointed because we felt that he could do it finally in the fifth set.”

Medvedev broke Nadal’s serve in the final game of both the third and fourth sets, and even when it seemed he was out of it in the fifth he refused to give in easily. He broke when Nadal served for the match at 5-2, and had another chance to break in the final game before Nadal finally closed it out.

By then, some fans were even chanting Medvedev’s name.

“I was fighting for every point. I think they appreciated it,” Medvedev said.

“I knew I have to leave my heart out there for them, also. For myself first of all, but for them, also. I think they saw it and they appreciate it.”

He then had fans standing and cheering with his remarks during the trophy ceremony — a far cry from his third-round match , when one fan was seen on camera extending his middle finger toward him. Medvedev had drawn their ire for a series of antics on the court, first snatching the towel from a ballperson, then tossing his racket in the direction of the chair umpire, and finally flashing his middle finger next to his forehead.

When Medvedev trolled them during his postmatch interview that night, arms extended to encourage more boos, he seemed to assure himself a permanent place — at least for the rest of this tournament — on the fans’ list of players they love to hate.

But he was contrite afterward and vowed to be a better person.

He’s already a good player. Medvedev reached the final of four straight hard-court tournaments to move into the top five in the rankings, with his performance at Flushing Meadows his best by far in a major.

“Tonight everybody saw why he’s the No. 4 player in the world already although he’s 23 years old,” Nadal said.

So though Medvedev said he tends to be critical of himself, he had to agree with his new fans that applauded a job well done.

“Have to give myself credit,” he said. “I hope I grew a lot doing these things. But I need to continue and I need to be better.”