After winning just five games across the first two sets, Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Australian Open campaign looked to be coming to a dismal end in the quarterfinals. In the Greek’s defence, his opponent, the great Rafael Nadal, was playing some sublime tennis, but it was still hard not to feel that it was an opportunity wasted for Tsitsipas, particularly in conditions that suited his free-flowing style of attacking tennis far more than they did Nadal’s.
But Tsitsipas proved willing to dig in. Under heavy pressure throughout the third set, and unable to make any inroads against Nadal’s serve, the 22-year-old simply hung on, hoping to reach the relatively safe harbour of a tiebreak, where just about anything can happen. He did, and it did. Having mustered just one point against the Nadal serve over the course of the set, he won four points against it in the tiebreak, two courtesy of missed Nadal overheads.
Thereafter, it felt like the momentum had shifted. Tsitsipas had the better of the fourth set, with one break of the Nadal serve enough to see it added to his column and the match sent to a fifth set. Tsitsipas, who rallied from two sets down to parity against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros, but could not finish the job, appeared determined not to make the same mistake. Nadal threatened at times, but it was Tsitsipas who struck the decisive blow, breaking Nadal to love in the 11th game of the fifth.
There was more drama in the final game of the match, with two loose shots from Tsitsipas giving Nadal a hint of a chance. But it was one he could not take, despite forcing a break point that would have earned him a reprieve. Instead, as he had done all match, Tsitsipas held his nerve, playing his best tennis when it mattered most. He finished the match in fitting style, hammering a forehand down the line into the open court, his commitment to attacking tennis ultimately rewarded with a place in the semifinals.
It marked just the second time he had beaten top-ten opposition at a Major, with his first victory coming on the same court against Roger Federer two years ago. But where that win felt like a statement, Tsitsipas’ triumph over Nadal had something more akin to the feel of vindication, confirmation that he belongs at the very highest-level and that his future will include Grand Slam success. Unfortunately for the Greek, his next assignment looks more difficult still.
Daniil Medvedev has stormed through the draw at the Australian Open, barring a mid-match loss of focus in the third round, and demolished his compatriot Andrey Rublev in his quarterfinal. The margin of his victory may have had as much to do with Rublev’s difficult in enduring the searing midday temperatures as Medvedev’s superior tennis, but it still looks like a tall-order for Tsitsipas to beat him after this quarterfinal marathon, particularly as the Russian has won five of their previous six matches.
For Nadal, meanwhile, it was another disappointing year in Melbourne. After arriving in the Victorian state capital struggling with a back injury, he may well be pleased to have made it as far as he did, but to lose from such a commanding position can never be anything but a bitter pill to swallow, all the more so for such a great champion. And more importantly, it sees him miss out on the chance to add a second Australian Open title to his collection and move one clear of Federer in the all-time Grand Slam tally.
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