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Tsitsipas Battles Into Australian Open Semifinals

Jan 22nd 2019

In an interview when he was 13-years-old, Stefanos Tsitsipas said, “My best weapon is backhand and volley.” When asked, “Who is your tennis idol?” he said, “Roger Federer.” When asked, “In 10 years, what do you think about your tennis career?” he said, “I don’t know, but I will do my best to be in the top.”

Twenty-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece backed up his victory over his idol to defeat 30-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) in three hours and 15 minutes.

It’s easy now to agree with the 13-year-old Tsitsipas that he will “be in the top.” At least top-five, if not world No. 1. He’s raised the rest of his game up to the level of his childhood weapons of backhand and volley. His forehand is crushing. He often plays it on the rise, putting pressure on his opponent in the same way that Federer does. His serve is also Federer-esque, with its precision and power, and can even be more piercing because of his 64” height.

Even Federer sees some of his style in Tsitsipas: “He has a one-handed backhand and I used to have long hair, too. Yeah, so maybe a little bit, sure.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

He has more of a continental grip than players nowadays. Sure, that’s a bit more my way than, let’s say, Rafa’s way.

I see him definitely being high up in the game for a long time.”

Though Federer was never able to break the Tsitsipas serve, Bautista Agut broke in the first game and then held to lead 2-love. Tsitsipas responded well, recovering to make it 4-all and then maintained momentum to win the set.

This was Bautista Agut’s first slam quarterfinal. He’d gotten here the hard way, having three five-setters, including an emotional first-round against Andy Murray.

Bautista Agut is a steady player who’s willing to run all day and make you play a lot of balls, and steady guys are always hard to beat. He’s not a conventional Spanish player. He hits a little flatter, but his shots penetrate through a fast hardcourt. He positions himself well to hit the ball, a lot earlier than most. He’s a counterpuncher against big guys, but he can take over himself, if his opponent loses the length on their shot. His forehand is his weapon. It’s high percentage and punishing. His blasting two-handed backhand is also very effective. His serve is simple in its technique. Not too much can go wrong. He’s mentally tough with a good attitude, doesn’t make many errors, and is ready to make passing shots.

Tsitsipas is a completely different player style-wise. He takes more chances. He’s more versatile on his forehand, which he can roll with topspin, take early on the rise, take going into the net. Sometimes he steps inside out and cracks it. On his one-handed backhand, he has to back up to play, but when his timing is right, it’s one of the best in the game. He has lovely volleys, especially with his movement. His legs are far apart, and he stays low. He also wins a lot of free points with his serve. He can beat you from the back and the front.

In the second set, Bautista Agut got an early break and led 2-1 and that was enough for him to serve it out at 5-4, winning on a slider wide, when Tsitsipas framed a backhand.

In the third set, Bautista Agut’s bruising baseline game seemed to be wearing Tsitsipas down, and he broke for 3-2 with a beautiful inside-in forehand. But Tsitsipas kept battling and broke back in the eighth game to make it 4-all. The atmosphere in the crowd was electric. Melbourne has a big Greek community, and they had plenty to cheer about. It was a confidence-booster for Tsitsipas, who served two aces and took the lead 5-4. He was then third-time lucky on his third set point as he pushed a backhand down the line with the accuracy of a surgeon.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

In the fourth set, just like in the first set, Tsitsipas broke back for 4-all. Bautista Agut was finally starting to look weary, though he won a long rally with a forehand on the line to save a match point at 5-6.

In the tiebreaker, Tsitsipas fearlessly went for his shots with great success, sealing the triumph on his second match point with a huge serve out wide and a return in the net by Bautista Agut.

The Greek fell backward in celebration. His blondish hair falling through the air, held by a pale pink headband, his sinewy frame in an aquamarine shirt following, his long limbs outstretching on the ocean-blue ground of Rod Laver Arena.

Tsitsipas’s win makes him the youngest man to reach the final four in Melbourne since Andy Roddick in 2003 and the youngest at any major since Novak Djokovic at the US Open in 2007.

In his on-court interview, Tsitsipas said, “It all feels like a fairytale almost. I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working for. I feel a bit emotional but not too much because I know I really worked hard to get here.”

Tsitsipas said he’d told his team that one of his goals for the year was to reach a slam semifinal. “When I was answering this question I thought I was crazy, but it is real and it just happened.”

There has been a lot of discussion about Tsitsipas' travel vlog on You Tube. For those interested, you can find it at https://www.