Winning Roland Garros Semifinal An Adventure For Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached his first career Grand Slam final – and sealed it with an emphatic ace to beat Alexander Zverev in the first Roland-Garros men’s semifinal Friday afternoon.

The 22-year-old Greek rose to the occasion before an adoring crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier to win a nerve-wracking 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 match that lasted three hours and 37 minutes. By winning, Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to reach a major final and he will be the youngest Roland-Garros men’s finalist since Rafael Nadal in 2008.

“All I can think of is my roots,” Tsitsipas told French commentator Marion Bartoli during an emotional on-court interview shortly after winning on his fifth match-point opportunity. His father and coach, Apostonos, looked on from nearby in the stands. “I come from a really small place outside of Athens. My dream was to play here and I would never have thought I would achieve it. … There were a lot of people cheering me on in my country and I’m very happy that Greece is part of the tennis community now.

Maria [Sakkari] and I have done a good job of elevating the sport and keeping Greek tennis alive.”

While both Tsitsipas and Zverev have tasted victory this year at the ATP Tour Masters 1000 level, Friday’s confrontation was a match to determine who could take their tennis to the next level. For Tsitsipas, who was 0-3 in reaching the last four of a Grand Slam, he finally achieved his first win in a major semifinal. It wasn’t always a sure thing but it was an adventure.

As for Zverev, who reached last year’s US Open final before losing to Dominic Thiem, it another major disappointment for the 24-year-old from Hamburg.

“I started to play proper tennis in the third set,” Zverev said during his post-match press conference. “Against someone like Stefanos, it might be too late. … I can’t go down two sets to love against a top player like Stefanos and expect to win every single time. … I got to play better in those.

“When I come into these matches, I got to be a hundred percent form the first point on.”

With his triumph, Tsitsipas has achieved a new career-high ranking of World No. 4. Should he win his first major title on Sunday, he would rise even higher to No. 3.

So, just how did Tsitsipas master Zverev and attain his ATP Tour-leading 39th victory? In a variety of ways, including statistically. Tsitsipas hit eight aces and 36 winners (that offset 43 unforced errors), won 76 percent (71 of 94) of his first-serve points, converted five of 14 break points and outpointed Zverev 145-135. Meanwhile, Zverev finished with 11 aces and 45 winners, but also committed 47 unforced errors. He broke Tsitsipas three times in six chances.

The No. 5 seed Tsitsipas won the 37-minute first set 6-3 after breaking the No. 6 seed Zverev to begin the match. It was the margin that he needed and he made the most of his opportunity, playing to his strengths of using his inside-out forehand and diagonal backhand returns effectively.

Then, in the second set, after Zverev broke Tsitsipas and consolidated the break for a 3-0 lead, the rising Greek star came roaring back to win the next six straight games, which included three breaks of the German’s serve, to win the 39-minute set 6-3 and put himself in the driver’s seat.

Far from being over, Zverev broke Tsitsipas to go ahead 2-1 in the third set and never relinquished his advantage. He won the 47-minute third set 6-4 as the match eclipsed the two-hour mark. Then, as in the third set, the German broke Tsitsipas in the opening game of the fourth set and consolidated it for a 2-0 advantage. He kept the Greek at bay by becoming more aggressive for the remainder of the 39-minute set to win 6-4.

In the fifth and deciding set, ahead 2-1 and on serve, Tsitsipas broke through after Zverev ended a nine-shot rally by hitting a backhand into the net. He consolidated the break to move ahead further 4-1. After a pair of holds, Tsitsipas pinned Zverev in a corner but somehow wasn’t able to convert any of the four match points he held during a lengthy, 14-point game. Zverev held, which left it to Tsitsipas to serve it out for game, set and match. His eighth ace was thing of beauty and it wrapped up the 44-minute set and left Tsitsipas to show the crowd – and the world tuning in on TV – a big smile that permeated his face. There was a mixture of happiness and relief, for sure.

“It was nerve-wracking and so intense in the first game of the deciding set,” Tsitsipas said. “I came back and I stayed alive. I felt the crowd with me, they were cheering me and giving me their energy. I still felt that there was hope and a chance to fight back. The only thing I could do is fight. It was very emotional and this win means a lot. It’s the most important on of my career so far.”

Now, it’s on to rest, recover and eat well for Tsitsipas. Come Sunday, he will have a date against either the 13-time French Open champion Nadal or World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic, who won Roland-Garros in 2016.

“I’m really happy with myself,” Tsitsipas said during his post-match press conference. “I think I’ve shown good discipline so far. I’ve been progressive. There is the the final, which is exciting. I’m looking forward on leaving my entire body on the court.”

Krejcikova keeps dream of historic double alive

No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, advanced to Sunday’s women’s doubles final with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Magda Linette of Poland and Bernarda Pera from the United States on Court Simonne Mathieu Friday afternoon.

The one hour and 11-minute victory kept alive Krejcikova’s hopes of becoming the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to win both Roland Garros singles and doubles titles. Krejcikova will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Saturday’s women’s singles final.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, who won the French Open doubles title in 2018, will face No. 14 seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States and Iga Swiatek of Poland, who defeated Irina-Camila Begu of Romania and Nadia Podoroska from Argentina, 6-4, 6-4, in one hour and 34 minutes.

Fils, Van Assche advance to all-French boys’ final

On an historic day, in which all four boys’ singles semifinalists were from France, No. 14 seed Arthur Fils rallied to beat his doubles partner, Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), to advance to his first junior major final. He will face Luca Van Assche, who defeated Sean Cuenin, 7-5, 6-4.

Fils, 16, who reached the second round of the French Open main draw qualifying, will be part of the first all-French boys’ singles final at Roland-Garros since Richard Gasquet triumphed over Laurent Recourderc in 2002.

Girls’ final will feature first Czech in 32 years

After upsetting No. 1 seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra earlier in the tournament, Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic reached the girls’ singles final with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed  Diana Shnaider of Russia. Noskova, 16, is the first Czech player to reach the Roland-Garros girls’ singles final since Eva Sviglerova, who finished as runner-up in 1989.

Noskova will oppose Erika Andreeva of Russia, who defeated fellow Russian Oksana Selekhmeteva, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (0).