Australian Open: Tsitsipas could take advantage if Nadal injury flares up
Young Greek star has become the nailed-on star of this year’s championships in Melbourne
Stefanos Tsitsipas celebrates his victory over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut during their men’s singles quarter-final at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty Images
The nailed-on star of this 2019 Australian Open is 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas and his chances of creating more history improved marginally when Rafael Nadal failed to dispel concerns about his fitness ahead of their semi-final after wiping the court with Frances Tiafoe on day eight of the Australian Open.
When someone pointed out to the Spaniard after his impressive win over the exciting young American that he had tape on his abdomen – not far from the area of his body that gave up on him when he quit during the fifth set of his quarter-final against Marin Cilic last year – Nadal was unamused.
“I am in the semi-finals,” he said. “It is not the day to talk about this. Thank you very much for your worry. Things happen during the tournament, that’s all.”
Perhaps. But Nadal has a wretched record of pulling out of tournaments or retiring over the past year. Doubts are are least reasonable. And he was candid enough to admit: “Of course there have been some troubles in a row, not easy situations. Last thing was in Abu Dhabi, I didn’t have the chance to play in Brisbane. It was, of course, a tough moment. At the same time, it has been positive that I felt myself playing well, practising well.”
If Nadal is not in prime shape, Tsitsipas is good enough to find him out. If the tape is a mere precaution, Nadal is still capable of destroying an ingénue such as Tsitsipas, and it could be one-sided.
There is a considerable fan base growing around the charismatic Greek player with the single-handed backhand and the multi-layered brain. He is different, a relaxed and attractive thinker who says there is more to life than tennis, yet gives the impression he would drive himself to the extremities of collapse to win a big match. Nadal might force him to go to that place.
“He really announced himself on the grandest stage after beating Roger Federer,” Annabel Croft said on Eurosport after watching him beat Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals on day eight.
“Everyone has been likening him to Roger [whom he beat in the fourth round], when Roger beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. He came out here and he didn’t play as well as he did against Federer, he wasn’t as aggressive, the tricks weren’t on show as much but he did a good job of wearing down Bautista Agut.”
That’s a fair summary. Championships are not won in a blaze of bright light, but in the persistent heat of a long campaign. Nadal has done that so many times and Tsitsipas is not remotely familiar with the pressure of winning seven best-of-five matches in a row against the best players in the world, yet he got the better of the Spaniard almost through sheer force of will.
He definitely has something about him. It is not just his sumptuous ground strokes, big serve and willingness to risk all by charging the net. He make mistakes, but he makes them honestly – and he talks with candour about his learning journey.
Asked if he surprised himself by the level of his tennis, he said: “A little bit, yeah. You think your opponent is going to do some extraordinary things – and Roberto was playing great today. He showed some good tennis the entire week. But, at the end, it’s completely different to what I can picture before going on the court – how you can imagine how your opponent is going to play. What I realised recently is, your opponent feels the exact same thing you feel.”
One person who reckons Tsitsipas might be feeling different at the end of his semi-final against Nadal is Patrick Mouratoglou, who is half Greek and has entertained him at his Riviera academy since spotting his potential three years ago.
“Stefanos’s progress since he joined us in the south of France has been exceptional,” Mouratoglou, who also coaches Serena Williams, told tennishead.com. “At the start of this year, most of the top players probably knew very little about Stefanos. They do now.”
Speaking before this tournament, Mouratoglou said: “He got to the second week at Wimbledon. It would be good if he could get to the second week of all four Grand Slams [in 2019]. And if you’re getting to the second week, why not aim to go even further?” – Guardian