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Oz | AO | Melbourne Tennis From Down Under | Observations By Alix Ramsay | 2019 | Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts during his men’s singles fourth round match against Roger Federer of Switzerland at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 20 January 2019. EPA-EFE/LUKAS COCH



You get used to seeing unusual things in Australia. For a start, the water goes the wrong way down the plughole (it something to do with gravity being upside down as we are on the other side of the world) and then there are the “caution kangaroos/wombats/koalas/ camels/insert odd-looking animal of choice” road signs, not to mention the “please brake for snakes” and the “speeding kills cassowaries” signs.


At the end of my road here in Melbourne there used to be a shop selling exotic lingerie and other accoutrements of the more grown-up variety. Basically it was a naughty knickers shop. But it is no more; the business has gone bust and the premises are empty. The original shop signs and branding are still there, though, so beneath the banner “sexy, nice and naughty” is a large sign reading: “For lease. Impressive frontage, off-street parking” which, upon reflection, is a perfect description of the previous tenant. Only in Australia…


Anyway, another unusual sight spotted at Melbourne Park is that of the young bloke scoring the win of his life over a big name and then backing that up that up by winning his next match against a far less famous foe. But that is what Stefanos Tsitsipas did on Tuesday afternoon. The man who beat Roger Federer got back to work and got back to basics to beat Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.


From the elation of beating Fed in the showcase night match in the packed Rod Laver Arena, Greece’s favourite son was pushed back out on court for the lunchtime slot against an extremely good player but one who does little to raise the pulse rate of the casual observer.


So, for the first 30 minutes or so of the match, those casual observers queued up for their beers and snags (a snag is an Australian sausage, usually served in a bun and slathered with sauce… and it is delicious) and only sauntered over to their seats when the first set was getting tight. Tsitsipas was left to create his own atmosphere on court – and it was proving anything but easy.


Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in action against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain during the men's singles quarter final match on day nine of the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 22 January 2019.  EPA-EFE/HAMISH BLAIR  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in action against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain during the men’s singles quarter final match on day nine of the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 22 January 2019. EPA-EFE/HAMISH BLAIR

A break down in the first three sets, he had to find a way to kick-start both his game and his emotions, but then once he had nicked the opening set, he had the crowd in full voice. That helped. In the end, the passion, the belief and the aggression that had beaten Federer got the better of Bautista Agut.


“The first night was tough to process [the win over Federer],” Tsitsipas said. “In the beginning was tough to fall asleep, to be honest with you. I had a pain in my toe which kept me awake. In general, I felt a bit of pain in my body and tension. Yeah, first night was tough. Slept less than six hours. Was worried about my next match, if I’m going to be able to get some good sleep the day before.


“I did want to concentrate on my next match. I knew that win against Federer was important, played a huge role in my image, like who I am. But I knew that the biggest challenge was today’s match, that I can prove myself once again.”


As a brief digression, if this tennis business goes pear shaped for Tsitsipas, he can always make a good living as a publicist and marketing man. He had just realised a lifelong dream to get to his first grand slam semi-final and yet he still had the presence of mind to sign the TV camera lens – that telly tradition for the winners – with the hashtag of his clothing sponsor, Adidas. And when he beat Federer, he casually mentioned that he had been watching the great man on YouTube to get a few tips. “I’m not getting paid to say this,” he said having given the internet site a massive plug.


But on YouTube is Tsitsipas’s own channel, one which doubled its subscriber numbers in the space of those four sets against Bautista Agut. This time, he was shameless in his on-court interview, begging the crowd to subscribe – and they did, in their thousands.


And if you thought there was no such thing as a free lunch, you are wrong. If you are Tsitsipas, you get a souvlaki named after you at the famous Stalactites restaurant in Lonsdale Street (it is lamb, potato, basil, tzatziki  and pomegranate) and you won’t be paying for it if you pop by for a bite. This bloke has clearly got real talent in more than just tennis.


So now the dream continues with a semi-final against Rafa Nadal (he marmalised Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-2). Can he pull off another upset? Can lightning strike twice? He seems to think so.


“Nadal, I played him once, once on clay, once hard court,” Tsitsipas said. “I felt very close of beating him in Toronto, though the score was 6-2, 7-6. I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself I’m going to do much better against him next time. It felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court.


“On clay, it was a different story. I felt like I had no chance after losing in Barcelona 6-1, 6-2. I felt like he’s on completely another level on clay than on hard.


“It’s going to be interesting. I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”


It could happen – although it does seem unlikely – and, let’s face it, you do see some unusual sights in Australia.

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