Stefanos Tsitsipas continues ‘fairtytale’ to make Australian Open semi-finals after beating Roberto Bautista Agut

The Greek star beat his Spanish opponent in four sets to set up a meeting with Rafael Nadal

Paul Newman
Melbourne
Tuesday 22 January 2019 08:35
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Who has the most grand slams wins in tennis?

Stefanos Tsitsipas said it was almost like a fairytale. Forty-eight hours after claiming the biggest victory of his career when he beat Roger Federer here at the Australian Open, 20-year-old Tsitsipas on Tuesday became the first Greek player ever to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament.

His reward for beating Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 will be a meeting on Thursday with Rafael Nadal, who crushed Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 and has yet to drop a set in this tournament.

With his flowing hair and energetic style, Tsitsipas has quickly become the most exciting young talent in the men’s game, but this match underlined that he has flamboyant talent to match his looks. Whether he was hitting big forehands or unleashing his potent one-handed backhand, the world No 15 kept Bautista Agut under constant pressure. Comfortable and confident at the net, Tsitsipas also hit his volleys with conviction and regularly produced the unexpected.

Bautista Agut was unbeaten in the nine previous matches he had played this year, but Tsitsipas had the flair and the imagination to find a way past the 30-year-old Spaniard.

“It almost feels like a fairytale,” Tsitsipas said afterwards. “I’m living a dream, living what I worked so hard for. I feel emotional – but not much. I told people before that reaching Grand Slam semis was my goal. When I was answering that question I thought I was crazy. But no, it’s real. It happened.”

At 20 years and 168 days Tsitsipas is the youngest man to reach the semi-finals here since Andy Roddick in 2003 and the youngest to make the last four at any Grand Slam event since Novak Djokovic in 2007.

Both Tsitsipas and Bautista Agut were playing in their first Grand Slam quarter-final. Tsitsipas’ previous best performance had seen him reach the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer, while Bautista Agut had fallen in the fourth round on nine previous occasions until his victory over Marin Cilic on Sunday.

From the moment the two men walked into Rod Laver Arena it was clear who would be the crowd favourite. About 175,000 people of Greek origin live in Melbourne – more than any other city in the world outside of Greece – and Tsitsipas’s fans were out in force once again displaying their national flags on a gloriously sunny Melbourne afternoon.

Tsitsipas is coached by his father, Apostolos, who watched from his player box. His mother, sister and two brothers were also there, as was Patrick Mouratoglou, whose academy in the south of France is the world No 15’s training base.

Stefanos Tsitsipas roars in celebration against Roberto Bautista Agut

After being broken in the very first game Tsitsipas fought back to win the first set, but Bautista Agut took the second when he converted the only break point in the third game. Tsitsipas again went a break down in the third set but levelled at 4-4 with a shot that typified his creative brilliance. Having chased down a drop shot, he surprised his opponent by sliding an exquisite backhand winner down the line.

The fourth set was tight, with Bautista Agut saving the only break point – a match point – when he served at 5-6. Tsitsipas, however, quickly took charge of the tie-break. He went to 6-2 with a service winner and won the next point in similar fashion before falling on his back in celebration.

Tsitsipas also showed he has an excellent temperament as he refused to be distracted by two code violations for taking too long between points and another for on-court coaching.

He said the coaching warning concerned his father rather than Mouratoglou, whose coaching from the sidelines led to the row between Serena Williams and the umpire at last year’s US Open final.

“All my father/coach said was he told me to drink more,” Tsitsipas said. “That was it. That counted as a coaching violation. I didn’t know that.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas reacts after victory over Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne

Tsitsipas said he had found it hard both physically and mentally to recover from his victory over Federer on Sunday. “The first night was tough to process,” he said. “It was tough to fall asleep. I had a pain in my toe which kept me awake. In general, I felt a bit of pain in my body and tension. The first night was tough.

“I slept less than six hours and I was worried about my next match, if would be able to get some good sleep the day before, but I slept pretty well last night.

“I received a lot of messages, a lot of congratulations from people, from celebrities back home, people I never thought were watching tennis. It felt like the whole thing had had a big impact in the country.”

Tiafoe, who was also playing in his first Grand Slam quarter-final, was comprehensively outplayed by Nadal. The 21-year-old American, another of the “Next Gen” group of players who have been making such an impact, dropped his serve at the start of each set and was never able to recover.

Nadal, powering his way to his 30th Grand Slam semi-final, was particularly pleased to be enjoying such a good run at a tournament where he has had bad luck with injuries in the past.

Roberto Bautista Agut plays a backhand to Stefanos Tsitsipas

“For me it’s very emotional to be back in the semi-finals here in Melbourne,” he said afterwards. “I’ve had some troubles at this event during all my career, so being back in the semi-finals means everything to me. To be able to play on this court is so special.”

He added: “I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through to be able to compete at this level. That’s why I wake up every morning and go on court or to the gym with the goal of being a better player.”

Asked about the challenge of taking on some of the game’s best young players, Nadal said: “I said a couple of rounds ago that they can wait to beat me, but it looks as though they don’t want to wait. They are here now – Frances today in the quarter-finals and now Stefanos in the semi-finals.”

Tsitsipas said he felt he could “do something good” against Nadal, who beat the Greek comfortably on clay in Barcelona last year but had to work for his victory on a hard court in Toronto.

“I felt very close to beating him in Toronto, though the score was 6-2, 7-6,” Tsitsipas said. “I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself that I would 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, especially on a hard court.”

Nadal said Tsitsipas had been improving with every month. “He’s able to win against the best players in the world already,” the world No 2 said. “He’s unbelievable today and he will have a big chance to be one of the best.”

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