Tennis: New faces for the new year: Medvedev well equipped for a bumper harvest: John Roberts on the Ukrainian tennis prospect with the physique and touch to put him among the sport's big earners

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The Independent Online
NO tennis player born in the former Soviet Union has been so well placed to capitalise in a market economy as Andrei Medvedev, an 18-year-old from Kiev.

Others have made an impact in spite of financial or political constaints: Alex Metreveli, a Georgian, caused a stir by reaching the Wimbledon final in 1973, the year of the boycott, and in 1974 the Russian Olga Morozova advanced to the final of both the French Open and Wimbledon.

Then, in 1990, Andrei Chesnokov, a Muscovite, won the Monte Carlo Open and in the same year took his career winnings to dollars 1m. The majority of this sum had been handed to the Soviet Union Tennis Federation to help fund junior development and travel.

Even before the Soviet state was dismantled, Chesnokov joined in a campaign started by Natalia Zvereva, the 1988 French Open finalist from Minsk, and they were successful in their demands for a better deal.

Whether Medvedev (pronounced med-VYED-ev) is spoiled by having possession of the key to riches so early in his career remains to be seen. He has so far accumulated dollars 377,370 in prize money and undoubtedly has the potential to join the sport's multi-millionaires.

A victory against Bjorn Borg, 6-2, 6-2, in the first round of the Grand Prix Passing Shot in Bordeaux in September can be counted among the least of Medvedev's achievements. The recycled Borg was eliminated in straight sets every time he raised his head on the ATP Tour. The impressive part was that Medvedev went on to win the tournament.

By defeating Sergi Bruguera, of Spain, in the final, the Ukrainian secured his third title of the year. Bruguera may be remembered as the young man who eliminated Stefan Edberg, the top seed, in straight sets in the first round of the 1990 French Open.

Medvedev won his first senior title in Genoa in June, defeating the experienced Argentinian, Guillermo Perez- Roldan in the final. This made the Ukrainian the ATP Tour's youngest winner of the year (17 and 10 months). He followed this in July by winning the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, defeating Wayne Ferreira, the South African who lifted the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois grass court championship at Queen's Club, London.

Each of Medvedev's successes were accomplished on clay courts, and could be traced to the form and confidence he displayed on the slower surface when advancing to the fourth round of the French Open; not that this categorises him as a tedious baseliner whose strategy is based on out-lasting opponents.

Medvedev has developed an attacking style, working hard to improve his volley. As he grew he no longer felt comfortable patrolling the back of the court, relying entirely on the strength of his groundstrokes. Standing 6ft 3in, he has the physique to adapt to the faster surfaces and prosper in the 'power game'.

Though not blessed with an intimidating first serve, he is capable of winning a high percentage of points with his second delivery. He also has a knack of discouraging opponents by winning points off their first serve. Such qualities would be wasted unless they were allied to a steady nerve: Medvedev's ratio of success in converting 46 per cent of the break points he created last year enabled him to raise his world ranking from No 226 to No 24.

Unlike many gifted players, who founder when attempting to make the transition to the senior game from the junior ranks, Medvedev showed little sign of stress in returning to the French Open, where he had won the junior title the previous year.

Having successfully negotiated the pre-qualifying tournament, Medvedev was drawn against Jakob Hlasek, the Swiss Davis Cup player, in the opening round. Hlasek was the 16th seed, and became the first seed to fall, Medvedev winning, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the second round, the Ukrainian defeated Kevin Curren, the 34-year-old former Wimbledon finalist, in four sets. Medvedev then won in straight sets against Todd Woodbridge, the young Australian who had squeezed into the dollars 6m Grand Slam Cup the previous December.

This victory placed Medvedev across the net from Jim Courier, the defending champion and world No 1. Try though he did, the Ukrainian mustered only seven games. It was a chastening experience, which made him feel 'like an idiot'. He said: 'You can't find the hole. You are just playing the wall. You hit the ball in the wall and you get it back faster than you hit it. It is a feeling that you can't win against this guy.'

If it was any consolation, Andre Agassi was treated similarly, taking only seven games off Courier in the semi- finals. Like Agassi, who went on to win the Wimbledon title, Medvedev was none the worse for his mauling by Courier, as his subsequent results showed.

He decided to open the year by representing Ukraine in the Hopman Cup mixed teams tournament in Australia with his sister, Natalia Medvedeva, 21, who has competed on the women's tour since 1987 and has been ranked as high as No 28. Though they were defeated in the quarter-finals by the German partnership of Steffi Graf and Michael Stich, Medvedev beat Stich in their singles match.

Medvedev, a convert to Christianity, has a gently spoken but pointed sense of humour. His father, he said in Paris, was a member of the Communist Party: 'Big pay cheque; big car; big backside.' And what did his father do? 'Absolutely nothing]'

The son has the ability, the desire and the opportunity to do a great deal.

(Photograph omitted)