Tsitsipas Stuns World No. 1 Djokovic At Rolex Shanghai Masters

Stefanos Tsitsipas, (photo: Shanghai Rolex Masters/Mike Frey)

SHANGHAI, October 11, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

As the Rolex Shanghai Masters quarterfinal round began to unfold on Friday at the Qizhong Tennis Center in Shanghai, China, there were plenty of seeded players – eight in all (most in the tournament’s history), including the top six – and lots of heavy hitters fighting to win the penultimate Masters 1000 title in the last stop on the ATP Tour’s Asian Swing.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic, seeded first, and two-time winner and second seed Roger Federer – plus Daniil Medvedev right behind as third seed – have been in the mix all week in Shanghai. So, too, have been Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded fourth through sixth, respectively, and ranked fifth through seventh in the world. It’s been a week to remember for the next generation of ATP rising stars.

Djokovic, a four-time Shanghai titlist, came into Friday’s play having won 14 consecutive sets, and against Tsitsipas, he extended his streak to 15. Then, Tsitsipas went to work and pulled off a stunning defeat to capture the biggest win of his young career. The rising Greek star beat the World No. 1 Djokovic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, in two hours and two minutes. The victory came just two years after Tsitsipas earned his first ATP Tour win of his career at Shanghai.

Toward the end of the second set and throughout the entirety of the third set, Tsitsipas began to play loose and daring tennis and won the mental battle against the 32-year-old Serbian. He took a 3-1 lead after Djokovic hit a forehand wide and it became a race to the finish that Tsitsipas desperately wanted to win. The Greek served two aces in the final game and closed out his milestone victory with a smash winner.

“It’s the best comeback that I have ever had probably,” said Tsitsipas during his post-match conference. “It was a very difficult victory mentally, too. I wasn’t really thinking that long term that I have to win two sets. It just went step by step. It happened. I broke him, I won the set, I stayed there, broke him again, eventually I got the win at the end. I wasn’t really thinking too much in the future, and I think that helped a lot.”

Tsitsipas, 21, who is in sixth place in the ATP Race To London, has now qualified for next month’s Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena. He joins Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Federer, Medvedev and Thiem at the season finale next month. The final two places are still up for grabs.

“It’s great,” said Tsitsipas, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s sweet. It’s something that I have been trying to get, and it was in my bucket list from the beginning of the year. So, I’m glad I secured my spot at the Nitto ATP Finals. I feel like it’s going to be a great show and a great atmosphere for all the players that will be competing in that special celebration, special event taking place in London.”

With his latest win, which improved his 2019 match record to 44-21 (which includes titles in Marseille and Estoril), Tsitsipas has now notched wins this year over Djokovic on a hard court (Shanghai), World No. 2 Federer on a hard court (Melbourne) and clay (Rome) and the World No. 2 Nadal on clay (Madrid).

“(Stefanos) had the high-quality tennis and he played very well after his serve,” said Djokovic, who lost for just the first time before the semifinal round in Shanghai. “He was backing up his serve with really good and aggressive first shots in the rally. I didn’t make him defend enough. I just gave him enough time to really dictate the play from back of the court and he deserved to win.”

Next, Tsitsipas will face the third-seeded Medvedev from Russia, whom the Greek has never beaten in four previous meetings. “Even though I won all of the matches against Stefanos, they were all really tight,” said Medvedev on Friday. “He’s improving also every week. He’s still so young. I mean, he has, let’s say, two years of more improving than me, talking about age.”

Medvedev cruises against Fognini

Medvedev moved a step closer to reaching his sixth consecutive final with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over 10th seed Fabio Fognini of Italy. The 23-year-old Russian improved to 12-0 in quarterfinals this year with his 86-minute victory that opened play on Center Court Friday. He struck 12 service aces, won 91 percent (42 of 46) of his first-serve points and didn’t face any break points. He also hit 23 winners, including 14 off of his serve. It was Medvedev’s 27th win in the 30 matches he’s played since July.

Although Medvedev struggled to close out his win over Fognini, he said afterward, “I worry in a good way, that I know I need to keep focus. I know I need to keep working hard every day in order not to lose this level. … I was serving probably the best match of the season. I mean, my serve today, I don’t know what happened. I was just crushing it.”

Fognini may have been overshadowed by bigger names in Shanghai, but he’s not been quiet this week. The vocal Italian caused a bit of a row earlier this week near the conclusion of his second-round match against Briton Andy Murray for words he may or may not have uttered in the heat of their battle. Regardless, the 32-year-old native of Sanremo, Italy, has been making a push toward reaching the Top Eight in the ATP Race To London standings. He’s currently in 11th place.

“It’s a dream,” said Fognini on Thursday of the possibility of competing in the year-end final, after he beat seventh seed Karen Khachanov of Russia. “Of course, I’m still there. But it’s the only thing that I’m happy (about), because I find timing in my game. I’m not thinking about it, mostly.

“I think if I play well, (then) I still have chance. If not, I go home and enjoy family. They are the most important thing of my life.”

Zverev plays his best to beat Federer

Meanwhile, if one win can turn a season around, Zverev’s 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3 quarterfinal triumph over the 38-year-old Federer just might be the one. It took six match points for Zverev to close out his victory over Federer and move into Saturday’s semifinals, but he got the job done. Now, Zverev is one of the few with a winning record – 4-3 – against Federer.

“I don’t think Roger Federer’s game suits anyone; he’s probably the greatest player of all time,” Zverev said during an interview with ATP TV after his win. “He will always make it tricky like he did with me today. You always have to play your best tennis to have a chance (to win).”

The 22-year-old German fired 17 aces against just one double fault and hit 43 winners against the Swiss maestro during their two hour and four minute match. Zverev won 77 percent of his first serves (54 for 70) and secured 60 percent of his second-serve points (12 for 20).

Federer saved five match points during the second set, including three as Zverev was serving at 6-5 to close out the win and two more during the tie-break. But it wasn’t enough to pull out a win. Zverev outpointed Federer 101-81.

“I knew if I played the same way I did in the first two sets I would have a chance to win in the third,” said Zverev. “I’m finally starting to play the way I should play. … Finally, I’m starting to play some good tennis. I hope I can continue it.”

Zverev will next take on Matteo Berrettini. The No. 11 seed from Italy ended Dominic Thiem’s unbeaten run in Asia, advancing to his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal with a 7-6 (8), 6-4 win in one hour and 40 minutes. With this victory, Berrettini moves into eighth position in the race to qualify for the season finale in London.

Around the Shanghai Masters

• Second seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo from Brazil became the second doubles team to qualify for the year-end Nitto ATP Finals in London. They secured their berth following their 6-4, 7-6 (2) quarterfinal win over Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia on Friday.

• Top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, were upset by No. 8 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil, 6-4, 6-2. Earlier this week, Cabal and Farah became the first doubles team to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.

By the numbers

• Five of the Top Six ATP Masters 1000 win leaders this season reached the Shanghai Masters quarterfinals: Daniil Medvedev (19), Novak Djokovic (18), Roger Federer (17), Fabio Fognini (15) and Dominic Thiem (13). The only player missing is Rafael Nadal, who also has 19 victories.

• With his quarterfinal loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas, Novak Djokovic trails Rafael Nadal (9,225) by 1,280 points in the 2019 ATP Race To London and the battle for year-end No. 1. Djokovic has finished the year in the top spot five times (2011-12, 2014-15, 2018).

• When Dominic Thiem beat Nikoloz Basilashvili on Thursday evening to reach the Shanghai Masters quarterfinals, he became the sixth player on the ATP Tour this season to win at least 40 matches. It’s the fourth straight season Thiem has earned 40-plus wins.

• With Italians Fabio Fognini and Matteo Berrettini in the chase for the year-end ATP Race To London, the last time an Italian qualified for the season finale was Corrado Barazzutti, who reached the 1978 Masters in New York.