Tsitsipas Makes Masterful Statement In Returning To Monte-Carlo Final

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: C. Caillaud)

MONTE-CARLO/WASHINGTON, April 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

After a dramatic quarterfinal Friday, in which each of the four matches went the distance, the four victors returned to Court Rainier III to do battle on semifinal Saturday at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

A sunny, 23-degree (Celsius) day awaited the players and the fans filled the stands at the Monte-Carlo Country Club that hugs the Mediterranean coastline in anticipation of two great battles. They got their money’s worth.

There was plenty of inspiration and motivation to go around and come Sunday, it will be World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and surprising Alejandro Davidovich vying for the first ATP Masters 1000 title of the season on red clay in the Principality of Monaco.

Tsitsipas, the defending Monte-Carlo champion, was dialed in and focused. It’s something that his opponent, World No. 3 and second seed Alexander Zverev, wasn’t. Zvererv committed 22 unforced errors and his serve was broken five times. Overall, Tsitsipas was solid enough to win – masterful at times – and he certainly had the inspiration to want to do well.

As the dust settled at the end of the afternoon, it was a determined Tsitsipas who prevailed 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 14 minutes to boost his 2022 record to 21-7. The victory lifted Tsitsipas to his second final of the season. It improved his career head-to-head against Zverev to 7-3.

Tsitsipas struck eight aces, won 75 percent of his first-serve points (21 of 28) and hit 17 winners to 12 unforced errors. He outpointed Zverev 58-38. His win came after his three-set thrilling comeback victory against No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina Friday night.

“II don’t know whether the long match [last night] gave me some rhythm, but I was able to play good tennis today,” Tsitsipas said during his on-court interview. “I had a level I was able to execute and come up with some good ideas on the court. I’m looking forward to the next one.

“I’ll have a difficult opponent tomorrow [in Davidovich Fokina]; I need to be ready. Obviously, I’ll take the best out of this one and move on.”

Asked what it will take to beat Davidovich Fokina, Tsitsipas said: “It’s going to take a little bit more. He’s on a good run and playing with good rhythm. I’ve played him before. He’s a difficult opponent. I’m going to be ready as much as possible. I know he’s improved from before and I’m going to have that in the back of my head. I’ll need to produce my best tennis that I can.”

Davidovich Fokina reaches first ATP Tour final

Meanwhile, in Saturday’s opening semifinal between a pair of unseeded warriors, No. 46 Davidovich Fokina of Spain and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, ranked 29th, there was never a boring moment. By the end, Davidovich Fokina beat Dimitrov, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-3, to reach his first ATP Tour Final, which happens to also be a Masters 1000 final.

Consider this: After squandering an opportunity – thanks to three unforced errors – to close out the semifinal match in straight sets, Davidovich found himself trailing 0-2 in the final set. The momentum he had gained earlier during the two-hour and 44-minute match was slip-sliding away. Then, in the midst of an eight-deuce, 22-point game that covered 14 minutes, the 22-year-old Davidovich Fokina surprised everyone – including his older opponent – when he decided to deploy an underarm serve out wide. Maybe, he knew something nobody else did.. It certainly caught Dimitrov, 30, off guard and he unable to react in time. Davidovich Fokina went on to hold serve and remained alive. If there a turning point in the match, this was it.

Next, Davidovich Fokina reeled off four more games in a row –point by point – including two breaks of Dimitrov’s serve replete with his heavy topspin forehand groundstrokes. It gave the Spaniard a commanding 5-2 lead that he wouldn’t lose this time. After Dimitrov finally put an end to the streak of lost games by holding serve, Davidovich Fokina ratcheted up the intensity level and became focused in the moment.

The Spaniard, filled with self-belief, deployed a surprising drop shot for a winner, won a long rally when Dimitrov netted a forehand return, and saw Dimitrov net a weak return from deep. Although the Bulgarian saved one match with a back-fisted half volley, Davidovich Fokina won the semifinal with a service ace – his third of the afternoon – and it was absolute delight for him and his fans. He proved that dreams do come true. By the end, he had outpointed Dimitrov by just four points, 103-99, but it was enough.

The victory, in back of 17 winners that offset 49 unforced errors, put the problem-solving Davidovich Fokina into his first ATP Masters 1000 title match and it lifted his live ranking to No. 27. He immediately found his team on the sidelines and shared a passionate moment of joy with them. It was absolute delight, an amazing turn of events.

When Davidovich Fokina was asked what it meant to be in his first ATP Tour final – which coincides with it being a Masters 1000 title match – he said: “I’m so, so happy to be in the final tomorrow. It’s a dream come true. From when I was a kid, I was dreaming of this day. I’m so happy.”

En route to reaching the Monte-Carlo final, Davidovich Fokina has eliminated three past Masters 1000 champions – Novak Djokovic, Taylor Fritz and Dimitrov. Can he do it again tomorrow against the No. 3 seed Tsitsipas? “Yeah, for sure,” he said with a sense of positivity without being boastful. “Now that I am in the final, I will enjoy it. I have all the power with me. I will try my best.”

Saturday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters results

Sunday’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters order of play

Ram and Salisbury advance in search of their first 2022 title

With their perfect set record for the week gone after the first set, No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain stepped up and won both a second-set tie-break and a match tie-breaker to beat first-time partners Rohan Bopanna of India and Jamie Murray of Great Britain, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 11-9, and advance to Sunday’s doubles final.

The American/British duo captured the one-hour and 45-minute match on Court Rainier III in spite of being outpointed 74-67 and not breaking their opponent’s serve.

Ram and Salisbury, who are going for their sixth crown together and first at Monte-Carlo, will face No. 6 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia in the title match. The Colombians defeated Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador, 7-5, 6-3.

Earlier this week, Salisbury, 29, became the world’s top-ranked doubles player for the first time. He’s the second British player following Jamie Murray to achieve the distinction.

By the numbers

With Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain playing in today’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semifinals, this is the third straight ATP Masters 1000 tournament in 2022 that a player has made his Masters 1000 semifinal debut. Earlier this season, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain made his Masters 1000 semifinal debut at Indian Wells and last month Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina debuted at Miami.

“Quotable …”

“Just a tremendous amount of grit, determination and attention to detail. He’s one of the best players and in order to perform against players like him, I really need to bring the best out of my game, and take it shot after shot.”

– No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, asked Friday what it would take to defeat No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev in their Saturday semifinal match.