Stefanos Tsitsipas sealed a second-round date with Andy Murray at Wimbledon and smiled: “I’m not expecting anyone supporting me! Centre Court is like his living room.”
He's someone who has done so much for the sport. He's a tough competitor. He won't give up. I hope we play a Centre Court battle. I never played Centre Court. It'll be nice. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Loved up fifth seed Tsitsipas , cheered on by girlfriend, Spanish player Paula Badosa fresh from her own victory, secured his meeting with the two-time champion who inspired him as a youngster with a thrilling opening round, roller-coaster 3-6 7-6 6-2 6-7 7-6 win over former US Open champion Dominic Thiem in their resumed encounter which took close to four hours.
The 24-year-old said: “A few years ago when I was a kid, I remember witnessing his (Murray’s) first Wimbledon title and, thinking about it now, it gives me goosebumps because of what he went through during that final (in 2013 against Novak Djokovic). It was so difficult for him to close that last game. Every time we re-watch that moment I just feel shivers all over my body.
“He’s someone who has done so much for the sport. He’s a tough competitor. He won’t give up. I hope we play a Centre Court battle. I never played Centre Court. It’ll be nice.”
Murray, who overcame fellow Brit Ryan Peniston in his first- round match, will be hoping he can break the heart of Tsitsipas.
But the former world No.1 on the comeback trail with a metal hip will have to take on an opponent who displayed fine form in edging out former world No.3 Thiem.
Tsitsipas said: “The match against Dominic was pretty stressful, frustrating. It took forever. Glad it went my way. Dominic is someone who has brought the best out of me every single time, every time we’ve had the opportunity to play each other. We both put on a show. Hope everyone enjoyed it. Dominic’s a tough competitor and I wish him all the best in the future.”
On paper, a showdown between fifth seed Tsitsipas and former US Open champion Thiem might have seemed worthy of Centre or at least No.1 Court a couple of years ago before the latter developed a wrist problem and slid down the rankings.
And the powers-that-be seemed to make the right call as Tsitsipas and Thiem went into their Court Two encounter with reasons which might have been deemed to dilute their chances of putting on a good show.
Tsitsipas’ recently-publicised relationship with Badosa could have acted as a distraction. He said in Tennis World: “I feel like I’m falling in love for the first time in my life. I never expected this to happen and it gives me a new perspective on life. It makes me a happier person. Whether I win titles or lose, it doesn’t matter to me.”
And Thiem , now world 90 after threatening the big guns of the sport before his physical ailments, confessed that The Championships were his “worst Grand Slam by a distance”. That the natural surface didn’t suit his game, with the low bounce and the serve being “much more important”.
All this, of course, was music to Murray’s ears.
But of course the marathon of thrills and spills on Court Two would have graced any court in the world.
Thiem had to hope he rediscovered the form which helped him seal his best result at the event six years ago when he made the last 16, while Tsitsipas focused on his tennis rather than Badosa for a couple of hours.
Thiem led 6-3 3-4 when rain, like it did for a multitude of matches, stopped play in the pair’s first meeting on grass the previous evening.
But it was Tsitsipas who resumed the better. Neither gave much away in the first few games but the Greek secured a set point on the Thiem serve at 5-4. His opponent saved it and went on to force a tiebreak.
Tsitsipas dominated it as Thiem’s normally dependable backhand broke down. The Greek raced into a 6-0 lead as Thiem made a series of errors on it. And another gifted the tiebreak for the 24-year-old to level the match.
Tsitsipas continued to put the pressure on the Thiem serve in the third set, a marathon third game produced five break points before the Austrian held.
Thiem had lost five successive Slam first-round matches and he continued to wilt as a sixth loomed when broken at 2-2 with Tsitsipas compounding the Austrian’s problems by going on to hold his own and breaking the world No.90 again. The set and the lead were there for the taking and the Greek took them.
Thiem wobbled at the start of the fourth but bounced back by scrapping for everything, forcing Tsitsipas to save the set at 5-4 and 6-5.
The Austrian was going nowhere, and he secured three set points in the tiebreak. Tsitsipas saved two but not the third and Thiem had levelled the match showing plenty of heart.
The pair upped the quality of their play in a thrilling final set in which it was almost impossible to pick a winner.
The first chink in either player’s armour came in the seventh game when Tsitsipas conceded a break point. But it proved a blip as he held.
The duo battled on in the evening sunshine with the rain and clouds a memory.
Tsitsipas had the advantage of serving first this set and he kept his nose in front. But Thiem maintained his nerve and eventually forced a match tiebreak, surviving a match point at 6-5.
The gladiators continued to stand toe to toe but Tsitsipas put daylight between them by stretching his 6ft.4in frame full length to put away a backhand volley for a 4-2 lead in the ten-point breaker.
But Thiem levelled and edged ahead. Tsitsipas retook the advantage and finally finished the job as the crowd roared.