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Smart Medvedev keeping one move ahead of his rivals

(Reuters) - Russian Daniil Medvedev has become one of the smartest players in the men’s game and like one of his nation’s great chess players he invariably selects the right move.

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The 24-year-old will face Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the U.S. Open semi-final on Friday with the winner being tipped to go on and lift their first Grand Slam title.

He is yet to drop a set so far, and fuelled by the experience of reaching last year’s final against Rafa Nadal, Medvedev is looking increasingly hard to stop.

Former champion Mats Wilander says the third seed’s ability to out-smart opponents is a major weapon.

“Daniil doesn’t play the scoreboard, he plays tactics, he plays momentum and he just keeps plugging away,” Eurosport analyst Wilander said looking ahead to Friday’s clash.

“He’s a chess player. He hits the shot that he thinks is right for the moment, not because of where the score is.

“He’s just a really good tactician on court and he’s going to look for solutions in any situation.”

Three-time Grand Slam runner-up Thiem leads their head-to-head 2-1 but Medvedev prevailed easily in their last meeting, an outdoor hardcourt clash in Canada last year.

His unpredictable game has made him one of the most awkward opponents on the Tour.

“I don’t see why he can’t win a Grand Slam,” Wilander said. “There are some players that don’t like to play against Medvedev because he has such an awkward style so he’s going to be winning matches and have good head-to-heads against very good players.

“It doesn’t matter who they are, they won’t like playing against him. He is building that reputation that it is tough to play against him and he doesn’t give you anything for free.

“You really don’t know what he’s going to do next with the second serve, you don’t know when he’s going to smack the forehand or push it back. He’s very unpredictable, the only predictable thing is that he’s going to play smart.”

While Medvedev was booed last year by Flushing Meadows crowds and in the past was known for being volatile, Wilander said his personality is good for the sport.

“Every moment of the match he seems to be completely engaged emotionally,” seven-time major winner Wilander said. “I like the way he is in court -- angry, smiling, he looks like he’s having a really good time and enjoying his tennis.”

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge