It wasn’t in the script but Stefanos Tsitsipas produced the performance which not just matched the great Roger Federer, but knocked him out of the Australian Open where he has reigned as champion for the past two years.
There's nothing really I can say to describe this. I'm the happiest man on earth right now. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas, the NextGen champion is the first Greek player to reach the singles quarter-finals stage of a grand slam and has been touted as a possible future world number one.
On Sunday he showed he has the potential to lead the ‘young bloods’ of the sport in their take over from the Established Big Four and the win could be the threshold the game has been waiting for, especially as Frances Tiafoe made the last eight earlier in the day, plus Daniil Medvedev and the main young flagbearer Alexander Zverev hoping to join them them on Monday following their own fourth round matches.
Meanwhile Tsitsipas defeated the 20-time grand slam champion 7-6(11) 6-7(3) 5-7 6-7(5) on the Rod Laver Arena to record the best result of his young career and will meet the 22nd seeded Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the semi-finals, the Spaniard having outlasted Marin Cilic 6-7(6) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4.
Tsitsipas, seeded 14, said: “There’s nothing really I can say to describe this. I’m the happiest man on earth right now.”
The first signs that Tstsipas could push Federer were evident in the Hopman Cup earlier this month were the Swiss icon required two tie-break sets to dispatch the Greek 20-year-old.
In many respects its not surprising that this fourth round clash was dominated by the serve with only one break being achieved.
The first set ended on a controversial note when a fan shouted ‘out’ on a Tsitsipas forehand with Federer leading 12-11. That distracted the youngster who then miss-hit his next forehand for Federer to claim the set.
The second saw Federer constantly pressure the Greek’s serve but each time Tsitsipas was able to repel him as the third seed was unable to convert any of the 10 break points he negotiated.
Another tie break, and this time Tsitsipas took early control to level the match which at this stage has reached the two-hour mark.
At 4-5 in the third, Tsitsipas gained his first two break points of the entire match but Federer successfully forced him back only to find himself in a similar position – but with the set at stake – in his next service game. This time he netted his forehand for his 42nd unforced error to drop his serve and find himself behind for the first time in the championships.
After the seventh game of the fourth set, Tsitsipas called for the trainer to receive some massage on his legs as he was starting to cramp, a rather controversial move as cramping is not an injury within the rules. Despite that, he didn’t take a medical time out, just using the allotted time allowed for switch of ends.
Federer couldn’t take advantage of his opponent’s cramping problems and Tsitsipas sealed his historic win on his first match point in the third tiebreak of the match.
“Roger is a legend of our sport,” Tsitsipas, who was a first round loser last year in Melbourne, remarked later. “I have so much respect for him. It’s a dream come true.”
Earlier Roberto Bautista Agut kept his calm and patiently fought out a five set duel with the sixth seeded Marin Cilic to reach the last eight of a slam for the first time in his career.
The 22nd-seeded Spaniard captured the decisive break in the ninth game of the final set before serving out strongly to claim a 6-7(6) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 win at the Margaret Court Arena.
The 30-year-old Bautista Agut, who knocked out an injured Andy Murray in the first round, could hardly contain his delight at becoming the second Spaniard to reach the quarter-finals this year.
The sixth-seed Cilic took the opening set in a tie-break, but was never able to quell the persistent Spaniard who was not overawed by the big Croat’s powerful serve as he levelled the match and pulled ahead two set to one.
Cilic bounced back in the fourth to force the tie to a deciding fifth set only for his recovery to run out of steam.
” It’s taken a lot – a lot of work, a lot of patience, a lot of dedication. I’ve had to work a lot to get to the quarter-finals this year… I’ve played a lot of hours, so I’m really happy” Buatista Agut said following the victory which provided his best result so far at grand slam level, on his 15th attempt in Melbourne.