By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Having suffered burn-out at the end of a brilliant 2019, Daniil Medvedev is feeling rejuvenated and worthy of the hype he is generating as one of the top contenders outside the 'Big Three' at the Australian Open.
American great John McEnroe has tipped the U.S. Open finalist as the man most likely to break the Grand Slam stranglehold of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer at Melbourne Park after a season featuring four titles and a Tour-leading 59 match wins.
Such predictions have proved a heavy burden on other young talents but Russian Medvedev sees the praise as an endorsement of his rapid rise in the game.
"Every time somebody says something like this, especially John, who was an amazing tennis player, a legend, it makes you kind of happy," the 23-year-old told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
"It means that what you've achieved last year get noticed.
"When tennis experts or legends like John say it, it's an honor for me. But it's not as easy to do it as to say.
"I'm going to take it match by match. Hopefully I'll be 100% physically because that's the most important thing."
Medvedev's golden 2019 reached a high point at Flushing Meadows where he came back from two sets down against Nadal before falling short in a thrilling final.
He followed that with titles in St Petersburg and Shanghai before hitting the wall with a first-round exit at the Paris Masters and then crashing out of the season-ending ATP Finals with three straight defeats in November.
It was a deflating finish to the year which Medvedev said had left him with nagging thoughts he might never scale such heights again.
"Some moments you can say to yourself maybe it was two good months of your career, two best months, then you are never going to get your tennis back," he said.
"The most important is to go back out to practice, just to try to do your best, to try to hit the balls good. As I see, it's going to come back."
Medvedev proved he was back on track with an encouraging tournament at the inaugural ATP Cup where he won all his singles matches before a three-set defeat to Djokovic in the semis.
He will face 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, who enjoyed a thrilling run to the quarter-finals last year, in an intriguing first-round clash on Tuesday.
From there, he has a great chance to surpass last year's previous best result at Melbourne Park, when he was beaten in the fourth round by Djokovic.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)