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Alix Ramsay Australian Open Update • Rafa Loses To Titsipas in 5 Sets After Winning First 2 Sets

By Alix Ramsay

The history books belong to the Federers, the Nadals and the Djokovics of this world. From the moment Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon to the moment Rafa Nadal lifted his 13th Coupe des Mousquetaires, those three have been hoovering up the major titles and doing their best to give no one else a look in.

In that time, 69 grand slams have been completed and Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 57 of them. Only eight men have managed to muscle their way into that closed shop: Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem. And of them, only Murray and Wawrinka have managed to do it more than once. History, then, belongs to the Big Three.

But on a hot, sticky Melbourne night as the clock ticked towards midnight, Stefanos Tsitsipas added his footnote to one of those pages in the archives: he came back from two sets down to beat Nadal 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. It took four hours and five minutes to do it and afterwards, Tsitsipas was speechless. Well, he was for a few moments – our Stef is seldom short of a comment or two should someone care to listen.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain during their Men’s singles quarter finals match against on Day 10 of the Australian Open . EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

He was only the third man ever to have beaten Nadal from two sets down (Federer did it in the 2005 Miami final and Fabio Fognini did it in the US Open third round of 2015). Just to take Nadal to five sets was an extraordinary achievement – in the 18 years he has been on the tour, he has played in 60 grand slams and won 20 of them. He has won 100 best-of-five set matches at Roland Garros alone. And in all that time and in all of those slams, he has only been taken to a fifth set 34 times – and he has only lost 12 of those matches. Until he got to Melbourne this year, that is.

So, then, how had Tsitsipas done it? At first, Tsitsipas was not altogether sure.

“The thing is that I wasn’t really thinking about a lot of things,” he said. “Nothing was going through my head. I was so much — how would I describe myself? Nirvana. Just, like, there. Playing, not thinking. After the third set, I fly like a little bird.”

That is not a tactic most coaches would suggest but if it works for Stef, who are we to argue. What he omitted to mention at that point was that for a handful of games at the start of the match, Nadal was a little sluggish. Then, at 3-3, the world No.2 kicked into gear and for the next two and a half sets, he played near perfect tennis.

Rafael Nadal in action during his Men’s singles quarter finals match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. EPA-EFE/DEAN

On the other side of the net, Tsitsipas was trying to play his game but it was all too much, too soon. The errors piled up and Nadal powered through to a two-set lead. But then the Greek took a breath and he did start to think: ‘Don’t force it, Stef; just wait for your winner. Just wait’. And it worked.

But by that time, Nadal was in his pomp. In the third set, he raced through his service games, winning 27 consecutive service points. Then, in an instant, the bubble burst – he dropped a point. Just the one, mind you, but his total domination had ended. He won the next point to force the tiebreak but the damage had been done.

Two missed smashes (and Rafa is usually as safe as houses on the overhead) cost him the tiebreak and suddenly it was Nadal looking for winners, making errors and trying desperately to patch together his confidence. And all the while, Tsitsipas kept to his new plan: stay with him, stay in the point, don’t rush it. In the end, Tsitsipas wore Nadal down.

Stefanos Tsitsipas in action during his Men’s singles quarter finals match against Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park . EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

“I was mainly focused on each single serve, each single shot,” Tsitsipas said. “I think at the very [start of the] third set I changed few things. I changed my patterns. I maybe took a little bit more time. I think that helped. I wanted to stay in the court a bit longer.

“These things kept adding up. I think the change the pace, the rhythm, things like this. I may have put my brain a little bit, I brainstormed and I said, What is going wrong, why is it not working my way?

“But then it just took off by itself. I didn’t really have too much to think of. I think that’s the way I feel it. I just played more flawless. I really didn’t care, honestly. I played with no care, and that increased the level of tennis that I put out there.”

Again, this was hardly textbook stuff (Coach to pupil: “Just go out and play like you don’t care…” Pupil’s father to coach: “You’re fired!”) but it relieved the pressure and allowed Tsitsipas to seize the moment – and his place in the semi-finals for an appointment with Daniil Medvedev.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (L) shakes hand with Rafael Nadal after defeating him in their Men’s singles quarter finals match on Day 10 of the Australian Open. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

Tsitsipas and Medvedev have had their moments in the past; they are not bosom buddies by any means. This relationship is hardly helped by the fact that the Russian has won five of their last six matches. The only time Tsitsipas won was at the ATP Finals in 2019 when Medvedev was running on fumes and the Greek was on his way to the biggest title of his career. However, they are both a little older, wiser and more experienced now and they are both wary of each other.

“I don’t feel completely exhausted,” Tsitsipas said. “I think with experience, I have realised how to preserve my energy and when I really have to put in the hard work in the match.

“So Medvedev is going to be difficult task. I played him last year at the Nitto. It was a good match from my side. He’s in very good shape, playing good tennis, playing accurate, playing simple.

“Might have said in the past that he plays boring, but I don’t really think he plays boring. He just plays extremely smart and outplays you. He’s somebody I really need to be careful with and just take my chances and press. That would be very important.”

Medvedev, too, was choosing his words carefully. He beat Andrey Rublev (he always does) in straight sets but it was a brutal, physical 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 battle that took a little over two hours in the heat of the day. Both men were cramping by the end – although, natch, Medvedev refused to show any weakness to his opponent. He is a tough as old boots, is Medvedev. Afterwards, he was looking forward to getting back to his digs, putting his feet up and watching Tsitsipas and Nadal knock lumps out of each other.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia after winning his Quarterfinals Men’s singles match against Andrey Rublev of Russia. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

“Stefanos is an amazing player, big serve, great volley,” the Russian said. “Tough to play. I think he’s improving physically because maybe two years ago could say, yeah, out of five sets it’s maybe not bad to play him. I don’t think it’s the case right now. Going to for sure enjoy the match this evening and get ready for whoever wins.”

Whoever does win has a huge opportunity to write their own chapter in those history books. If Djokovic really is as injured as he thought he was last Friday night and should he get to the final, he won’t fancy five sets against the firepower of either man. The closed shop may be about to be broken open again.