In what proved a remarkable day at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, Stefanos Tsitsipas remains on course to defend the title he won last year at the Principality, but he was given a fright before he secured his quarter-final place late in the evening.
It was extremely close. I was really close in the second set. That was the moment I had a big chance to close it out but Diego is Diego and I had to be Stefanos in the third set. Stefanos Tsitsipas
For the first time time in the Open Era, all quarter-finalists had to survive three set matches to progress to the last eight with Tstitispas aiming to become only the third player since 2003 to win the title in consecutive years. The last was Juan Carlos Ferrero before Rafa Nadal completely dominated the event.
But the third seeded Greek won’t find it an easy task for his next opponent will be Alexander Zverev, the second seed from Germany, who is more than keen to add his name to the list of champions in the Monte Carlo Country Club, who came through earlier in the day by beating the popular Italian Jannik Sinner, 5-7 6-3 7-6(5).
Zverev, the world number three, was able to shrug off a thigh problem and looked to have taken command early by reeling off a series of 13 winning points for a 4-1 lead against a 20-year-old opponent nursing a blistered foot!
But Sinner, buoyed on by a very vocal Italian crowd on the French Riviera who regularly cross the border to attend the event, fought back to 4-4, and then going on to claim the opening set when the big German dropped a double fault.
Sinner broke again in the second set to lead 2-1, but Zverev dug deep to pull back and go ahead 5-3 and then holding to level at a set-all.
The pair traded breaks again in the third set with the Olympic champion finally edging a tight tie-break in the decider on his first match point after some three hours of play for his second semi-final appearance at the event, matching his efforts of 2018.
“Sad to have won,” Zverev commented ironically to the Sinner’s large group of supporters.
“It means a lot, definitely, especially how this year has been going so far for me,” said Zverev. “I’ve lost long matches like that, so I’m happy I won this one,” he added.
Following him on court the defending champion Tsitsipas recovered from 0-4 down in the final set to defeat Argentina’s dogged Diego Schwartzman securing his last four place at 11.00pm local time.
Tsitsipas had led by a set and 5-2 at one stage and seemingly was cruising past his South American opponent but the diminutive Schwartzman is anything but an easy mark and hit back to extend the match well into the evening before capitulating 6-2 6-7(3) 6-4.
“There was a moment in the match where I felt what I was doing wasn’t working,” Tsitsipas told the crowd. “He had a massive lead and momentum in what he was trying to do. I just tried to stay in the match as much as I could and that worked out very well. I wasn’t expecting much at that point being a double break down, so I relaxed at that point.
“It was extremely close. I was really close in the second set. That was the moment I had a big chance to close it out but Diego is Diego and I had to be Stefanos in the third set.”
Unlike the bottom half of the draw, the top half features two unseeded players in the semis, Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.
The 22-year-old Davidovich Fokina, ranked 46 who ousted the world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the second round, is living up to a ‘giant killer’ tag as he added the Indian Wells champion the 12th seeded Taylor Fritz to his list of high-profile victims this week with a 2-6 6-4 6-3 victory.
On Saturday, he faces Dimitrov, who also needed three sets to get past Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 3-6 7-6(2).
“When you beat the world number one it gives you a lot of confidence physically, mentally and technically,” Davidovich Fokina admitted.
“I am pushing myself every match to play harder and harder.
“I am so, so happy. Last year I reached the quarterfinals. The emotions to be in the semi-finals are so high. I am enjoying every point. In the first set I had a lot of chances to break but I didn’t do it. But I just stayed focused and believed in myself.”
Fritz had problems even in the first set as his Spanish opponent piled on the pressure with the American complaining of stomach pains twice before receiving treatment from a doctor courtside.
The 10th-seeded American, who ended Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten start to the season to lift his maiden Masters trophy in Indian Wells in March, nevertheless secured the first set with a second break of serve.
Davidovich Fokina battled back and levelled the match with his first set point when Fritz made an error when the Spaniard surprisingly, got a smash back.
Then in the decider a netted smash from Fritz gave Davidovich Fokina two match points, the first of which was saved but the Spaniard made no mistake with the second, hitting a sublime right-handed winner.
Dimitrov sealed victory in a thrilling final set tie-break to reach the last four in Monte Carlo for the second time.
The Bulgarian secured the only break of the first set to love in the third game and held his advantage with the 11th-ranked Hurkacz doing likewise in the second, breaking 4-2 with consecutive drop shots that caught his 29th-ranked opponent off-guard.
In a gripping third set, the Pole broke twice and was serving for the match at 5-4, but the former world number three clawed his way back, going on to dominate in two hours, 27-minutes to continue his push to reach a third Masters final.
“I am just going one day at a time,” the Bulgarian said on court. “I’ve put in the work, that’s all I’ve done. I’m not even thinking of how I’m playing or anything like that, I just want to [do] a lot of work.
“The season on clay is not that long so you just want to keep on building, and that’s all I’m doing right now. Of course, if I would have lost that match it would have been disappointing, but at the same time I wouldn’t be too down on myself because I’ve been doing the right things.”