Tsitsipas-Nadal: Once In A Lifetime Or Not?

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: Jay Town/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Tennis fans around the world were treated to a late-night thriller Wednesday by rising Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas and 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal of Spain in the men’s quarterfinals of the Australian Open in Melbourne. In this battle of generations between the 22-year-old Tsitsipas and 34-year-old Nadal, it was the Spaniard who jumped ahead to a two-set lead. Then, Tsitsipas found his tennis nirvana.

Over the course of four hours and five minutes on Rod Laver Arena, both Nadal (only once an Australian Open champion during his Hall of Fame-worthy career) and Tsitipas battled valiantly, and each cracked a variety of shots that were as dazzling and remarkable as they were brutally powerful.

Tsitsipas fired 17 aces and hit 49 winners and 38 unforced errors. Nadal’s numbers were just as telling: 15 aces, 58 winners and 42 unforced errors. Each won a high volume of points on their first serve: Tsitsipas won 79 percent (66 of 84) and Nadal was just as effective, winning 78 percent (80 of 103). Both players were strong at the net with Tsitsipas winning 23 of 31 points and Nadal converted on 21 of 25. There were a total of 287 points played and just three separated them at the end, with Tsitsipas ahead 145-142.

It’s only too bad that because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the Melbourne area, Nadal and Tsitsipas played without a sell-out crowd, an audience to wildly applaud their efforts. There was nobody save for their respective teams to feed off. Tsitsipas later said during his press conference that “maybe the absence of the crowd” helped him to remain calm.

As it happened, in the final game of the match as midnight approached, with Tsitsipas ahead 6-5 and serving match point, he hit a backhand sizzler up the line that eluded Nadal for game, set and match. It closed out a 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 victory for Tsitsipas that arguably was the biggest triumph of his young career. He survived to play another day and will face Daniil Medvedev in the semifinal round on Friday evening. Earlier Wednesday, Medvedev defeated fellow Russian Andrey Rublev, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.

Here’s a sampling of what each player had to say during their respective press conferences that followed the match, first beginning with Nadal and followed by Tsitsipas:

How do you assess your feelings right now?

Nadal: “Oh, of course sad. I lost a match in quarterfinals of an event that mean a lot to me. Australian Open is one of my favorite events, without a doubt. So, I missed an opportunity to be in that semifinals again. And that’s it.

Well done for him. He played better than me probably in important moments. Was an equal match.

“I tried my best in every single moment. With the right attitude. No complaining (smiling) at all in no one moment, even in the tougher moments.

“Just trying to, I think I stayed positive all the time during the match, fighting. And was not enough. Sometimes, it’s enough. Today was not enough.

“And that’s it. Just another story in my tennis career (smiling). That’s it. No, another match I lost here in Australia with important advantage, and just accept and keep going. That’ the life.”

Can you tell us about what you were feeling like … those emotions?

Tsitsipas: “Well, there weren’t really many things that were going through my head. I was just enjoying the moment, and I wasn’t really thinking of, I don’t know, the future. There wasn’t really much to think of. What happened out on the court was spectacular by itself. Nothing really to describe it. …

“Moments like this haven’t happened a lot in my career, and the fact that I was able to come back the way I did and the way I fought against such a top, respected player like Rafa was something extra, something I have never felt before. It was a first-timer. And to be able to just walk up to my team and hug them and share that little moment of appreciation and solidarity, it was epic.

“It was everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m glad that I am where I am today. There is obviously light ahead at the end of the tunnel, and there is plenty more to go.”

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