Melbourne | Tsitsipas maintains the momentum
Stefanos Tsitsipas backed up his historical win over Roger Federer by eliminating Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the semi-final of the Australian Open.
When I started the year, they asked me what are my goals this year and I said 'semi, of a grand slam', and I thought, when I was answering this question, I thought I was crazy. But, no. It is real! Stefanos Tsitsipas
The Greek youngster is certainly causing a stir as he lives out his ‘dream’ by realising his New Year’s resolution of making the last four of a Grand Slam early!
His 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6(2) win over the Spaniard sent the Greek community – allegedly the biggest outside of Greece itself – into raptures, both inside the Rod Laver Arena and outside in the Garden Square as Tsitsipas became the first from their country, male or female, to reach the last four of a major.
“It got people’s attention, that game that I played (against Federer),” said the 20-year-old from Athens. “I had to stay focused and I am glad that I played well today because it shows that it didn’t happen accidentally.”
But to complete his dream he will have to more than likely, defeat both Rafa Nadal ad Novak Djokovic if he is to hold up the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Sunday.
Nadal himself has a tricky quarter final against France Tiafoe which is due to be played later on Tuesday, to confirm who his next opponent will be.
But back to Tsitsipas’ win.
“It feels like a fairy tale almost – I am just living the dream,” the 14th seed said.
“Living what I have been working hard for.
“I feel a bit emotional but not too much because I know that I really worked hard to get here, to play in the semis of a grand slam.
“When I started the year, they asked me what are my goals this year and I said ‘semi, of a grand slam’, and I thought, when I was answering this question, I thought I was crazy.
“But, no. It is real!”
At 20 years and 168 days, Tsitsipas is the youngest man to reach the last four at a major since Andy Roddick at the 2007 US Open.
One of the remarkable statistics to emerge from his match against Federer was that the great Swiss Maestro never broke the Tsitsipas serve despite having 12 opportunities to do so.
Bautista Agut though, managed it in the first game of their match but couldn’t hang on to the advantage as the 20-year-old struck back immediately and then went on to pocket the set with a second break thanks to a blistering forehand winner.
Bautista Agut went 2-1 up in the second set with another early break but this time Tsitsipas failed to respond as his own serve started to wobble somewhat allowing the Spaniard to level the match.
Another break for Bautista Agut came in the fifth game of the third set as the Tsitsipas dream came under threat but with the crowd now taking a keen interest, the youngster levelled for 4-4 after a lung busting game.
Titsipas followed that up with another break as he edged ahead and with his serve now firing as it should, took a two-sets to one lead.
In the fourth the Spaniard failed to emulate the early breaks he had in the previous sets and found himself serving to stay in the match at 4-5 and 5-6 but while he held off the now rampant Greek, repelling the first match point against him following a gruelling baseline rally involving 23 strokes.
In the ensuing tiebreak, Tsitsipas jumped out to a 3-0 lead and settled the match on the first of four more match points after three hours and 15 minutes.
Three of the Spaniard’s four wins at Melbourne Park this year had come in five- setters, including a first-round victory over Scottish great Andy Murray and in the second round against local hope John Millman.
But he remains unconvinced that Tsitsipas can now go on and win the first major of the season believing that Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be too strong for him though he concedes that he will be a major winner in the future.
“Well, he’s playing very good tennis,” the Spaniard admitted in his post-match press conference. “Of course, he has a lot of time to improve, a lot of time to get enough experience to be in the finals of these tournaments. But here I think Rafa and Novak are my favourites.”
When pressed as to the youngster’s strengths, he replied: “Well, he’s a good player, no. He’s very complete. He has a good forehand and backhand. He’s serving well. I think he knows the game. He knows how to play.”
Tsitsipas himself admitted he was afraid of losing his focus and concentration following his phenomenal win over Federer.
“I would say the biggest challenge was preparing for that match,” the youngster said in his on-court interview. “People were – from what I saw on social media, general media – pretty much, you know, going crazy after that win.
“That was a great win, it got people’s attention the match I played against him so again my biggest challenge was to stay concentrated, stay focused on what I wanted: to go further in the tournament. I’m really happy that I played well today.”