MELBOURNE, January 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Twenty-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas came into Tuesday afternoon’s Australian Open quarterfinal match against No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut aiming to become the youngest male to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Novak Djokovic in 2007 at the U.S. Open. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Spaniard arrived at Rod Laver Arena to play in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal on his 25th attempt. It brought to mind the old maxim: If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
As it happened, the No. 14 seed from Greece showed much major fight although Bautista Agut didn’t go down easy. However, all of Tsitsipas’ wins this Melbourne fortnight have come in four sets. His win over Bautista Agut lasted four sets, with the Greek coming out ahead 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2). Now, the Next Gen ATP Finals champion is headed to his first Grand Slam semifinal against No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain. With his quarterfinal triumph, Tsitsipas is the youngest Australian Open male semifinalist since Andy Roddick in 2003, and he’s also the first Greek male to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
“Whatever your opinion of Tsitsipas,” tweeted BBC5 Live’s David Law, co-host of “Tennis Podcast,” “his matches ain’t dull. Time violations, coaching violations, and burning all of his challenges in back-to-back sets.”
Whether or not the three five-setters Bautista Agut played earlier in the tournament caught up to him, he didn’t have the same energy level he did at the start of the match, when he raced to 4-2 advantages in each of the first three sets. Instead, Tsitsipas refocused – he won four straight games to close out the third set – and his inner strength and momentum carried him to the finish line in the fourth set. At 5-6, Bautista held off a match point to force a tie-break, but Tsitsipas jumped ahead 3-0 and was firmly in charge. He coasted the rest of the way in the tie-break, 7-2, to win the three hour and 15 minute match.
Tsitsipas fired 22 service aces and hit 68 winners that offset his 38 unforced errors. He withstood the 50 winners from Bautista Agut by forcing him into committing 32 unforced errors. Tsitsipas converted four of 11 break points and outpointed Bautista Agut 131-126.
During his on-court interview with Jim Courier for Australian TV, Tsitsipas beamed a big smile that could be seen and felt by the entire Rod Laver Arena crowd. “I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve worked hard for,” he said. “I really worked hard to get here, to play the semis of a Grand Slam. It is real – and it’s really happening.”
After an impressive display against a tough veteran opponent – and coming just two days after his milestone, four-set victory over No. 3 seed Roger Federer – Tsitsipas was engaging during his interview. He even took the time to recognize everyone sitting in his box during the interview, much to everyone’s delight.
Top women’s doubles team upset
The World No. 1 women’s doubles team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic were upset in the quarterfinals by the Asian-Pacific duo of Sam Stosur of Australia and Shuai Zhang of China, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), on Margaret Court Arena. The match lasted two hours and one minute.
Last year, Krejcikova and Siniakova lifted champions trophies at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon and were finalists at the WTA Finals in Singapore, losing to Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, who are seeded second at Melbourne.
“For sure winning the Grand Slams were the highlights for 2018, but across the season we played so many good matches together. We played some nice tennis here and managed to play a high level across the season,” Krejcikova told AusOpen.com.
Babos and Mladenovic advanced to the semifinals after beating ninth-seeded Raquel Atawo of the U.S. and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia, 6-4, 7-5. Also advancing were the unseeded U.S. team of Alison Riske and Jennifer Brady, which beat unseeded sisters Hao-Chin Chan and Latisha Chan of Taiwan, 6-3, 7-6 (3); and the unseeded Czech pair of Barbora Strykova and Marketa Vondrousova, 6-4, 6-4 winners over fifth-seeded Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain.
Serena lifting her game to new levels
Serena Williams is through to the 50th major quarterfinal of her storied career. With her epic fourth-round victory over current World No. 1 Simona Halep on Monday night, in which she prevailed 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, the former No. 1 now won 21 of her last 22 matches against Top 5 players at majors. Her win against Halep represented her 17th overall win over a World No. 1 player, which is second only to Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova’s 18.
During her post-match press conference, Williams was asked what it says about her as a competitor and about the standard of women’s tennis that she can reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal after playing just four matches since last September, including beating the world’s best-ranked player. She said, “I think it says more about me than women’s tennis. I think it says women’s tennis is amazing. It’s at the highest level it’s ever been. Of course I’m the biggest advocate of women’s tennis but I really do believe in my heart that everyone is playing well, and it’s tough out here.
“I have been working really hard, and I haven’t played that many tournaments on my road back, but I’m just trying to do the best that I can do, and I think I will get there. I don’t know when, but I know I will get there. That’s what I’m going to do.”
By the numbers
• In the same amount of time that it took No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan to defeat No. 23 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in Monday night’s men’s fourth round singles match on Margaret Court Arena – five hours and six minutes – one could fly from Washington Dulles International to Los Angeles International, which on average takes about four hours and 50 minutes, with a few minutes left over to reach baggage claim.
Speaking of Nishikiori, during this Australian fortnight, he has became a master of endurance, spending 13 hours and 47 minutes on court. Three of his four matches have gone five sets, including his second round encounter against Ivo Karlovic, which lasted two hours and 48 minutes – and twice, against Karlovic and Carreño Busta, they were decided by super tie-breaks.
Things you can do in five hours and six minutes, the length it took to decide tonight’s 5-set super tiebreak #AusOpen R16 between @keinishikori & @pablocarreno91: Fly from LAX to DCA. Just sayin’… #tennis pic.twitter.com/7jUB4LoKvR
— Michael Dickens (@michaelcdickens) 21. Januar 2019
What they’re saying
“I told my parents 10 years ago I was going to be a pro. I was going to change their life … my life. And I’m in the quarters of a Slam now. … I can’t believe it.” – Unseeded American Frances Tiafoe, 21, after beating two-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Sunday. Tiafoe faces No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain in the quarterfinals Tuesday night.
What they’re writing
Steve Tignor, Tennis Magazine writer, previewing the Rafael Nadal-Frances Tiafoe quarterfinal: “After watching Tiafoe survive dogfights with Kevin Anderson, Andreas Seppi and Grigor Dimitrov, I think he has a chance … to win at least a set and make this very interesting. Everything about Tiafoe, from his backhand, to his serve, to his ability to play under pressure and win the important points, has improved Down Under. The question for anyone facing Rafa is always this: Can you step into the court, take the ball on the rise, and dictate the rallies? Tiafoe can do this, which means we have to ask the second question for anyone face Rafa at a major: Can you do it over five sets?” Winner: Nadal.
What they’re tweeting
• Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim), Sports Illustrated executive editor: “On a day when, objectively, he probably should have been voted into the Hall of Fame (given precedent and standards), Goran Ivanisevic gets a measure of satisfaction as his player, Raonic heads to the QF #AusOpen.”
• Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard), French tennis journalist: “Massive massive win for Milos!!! Struggled so hard with injuries. He totally deserves a break from the bad luck!”
• Matt Roberts (@Roberts96Matt), producer of “The Tennis Podcast”: “I don’t remember there being a single moment this Australian Open when one of Roberto Bautista Agut or Kei Nishikori weren’t playing.”