Stefanos Tsitsipas' official arrival, Roger Federer's clay return - Aus Open diary

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Standing on court with Stefanos Tsitsipas following the young Greek’s stunning four-set win over 37-year-old Roger Federer, at Melbourne Park on Sunday, John McEnroe told the crowd that they were witnessing a “changing of the guard”.

The 20-year-old Tsitsipas dispatched his idol and two-time defending champion in four close sets, saving all 12 break points he faced along the way. It was a fourth round clash reminiscent of a 19-year-old Federer’s victory over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon back in 2001. Sampras retired the following year after winning his last of 14 majors at the US Open.

Tsitsipas watched that Federer-Sampras match multiple times before. When he realised during his post-victory press conference on Sunday that that Wimbledon classic was also a fourth round, he gave a pensive smile and said: “That’s crazy. What a coincidence!”

Federer dismissed McEnroe’s ‘changing of the guard’ comment when he was asked about it in press.

“He’s in front of the mic a lot. He’s always going to say stuff,” Federer said of McEnroe.

“I love John. I’ve heard that story the last 10 years. From that standpoint, nothing new there.”

In all fairness, it is hard to disagree with Federer. It’s been a few years now where the ‘Next Gen’ have been attempting to make their move, and while their results and rankings have improved, the fact remains that all four Grand Slams last year were won by either Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

The Big Three continue to dominate at the majors, and Federer’s defeat to Tsitsipas does not necessarily mean a torch has been passed on.

It does however feel like Tsitsipas’ official arrival to the big leagues. That you cannot deny. The way he carried himself in the face of his idol, in front of 15,000 spectators on a Federer-pro Rod Laver Arena was unbelievable.

“I thought it was an incredibly high-level match. I mean, I couldn’t keep up. The balls were flying so fast. I just was wildly impressed with Stefanos,” said Serena Williams on Monday. She practiced with Tsitsipas before, since they have a connection through her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, whose academy is a base for the young Greek.

Federer announced he’ll be playing on clay for the first time since 2016 and plans on competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015. Many see this is a sign that this could be the Swiss’ farewell tour and he’s making sure he plays at the French Open one last time. It is a plausible explanation for why he has chosen to play on the red dirt again after skipping the clay season altogether in 2017 and 2018.

Organisers of clay tournaments are already clamouring to secure Federer’s appearance, some, like the Estoril event, resorting to Twitter to send him an invite. We’ll know more once Federer has revealed his exact clay schedule.

SHARING ANNA WINTOUR

Vogue editor Anna Wintour made an appearance at Melbourne Park this week, supporting the Federer camp on Sunday, and joining Serena Williams’ corner on Monday.

Serena was asked what the shared custody agreement of Wintour was with Federer.

“Well, fortunately enough we were playing on opposite days. I can only speak for me, but I know he was excited and I know we both wanted her to come to this event in particular, because she’s never been to Australia. We were trying to get her to get here and she finally made it. So it was good,” said Serena.

“It’s always good to see her. She’s such a big fan of tennis. It was a pity that she hadn’t made it all the way over here yet, so I’m glad she did.”

IN THE PRESS CONFERENCE ROOM

– Naomi Osaka spoke about maturity, and how she is constantly pursuing it.

“For me, mature I think is accepting when things don’t go your way. It’s one of the biggest things for me I think I don’t do that well. I tend to complain a little bit, and I’m trying to fix that,” said the 21-year-old Japanese.

“I feel like it’s a big problem. But also, outside of tennis, I think I don’t really have to deal with the things that I guess normal people have to deal with. Outside of the court too my maturity level isn’t that big. I don’t have the biggest responsibilities. I just play tennis, and that’s basically it. On and off the court, definitely I think I need to improve that.”

– Frances Tiafoe spoke about his visit as a youngster, along with his twin brother Franklin, to his father’s hometown in Sierra Leone. The 21-year-old American, who reached his first Slam quarter-final with an emotional victory over Grigor Dimitrov on Sunday, is a true inspiration. Here he tells us how his father made sure he and his brother never took anything for granted.

“It was more my pops who wanted me to go there. Thought I was getting spoiled. He said, ‘You need to get you learned something, get you cultured. Came back definitely thinking different. Came back appreciating everything,” said Tiafoe.

“People talking about me and Franklin over there. You have people making fun of us for wearing PE shirts to play tennis, holes in our shoes. He said, ‘You guys don’t even understand. You guys got American passports, got the opportunity to do something great. Go and do it’. After that, put things in perspective for me. I ain’t ever act spoiled ever again.”

STATS

0 – break points converted by Roger Federer from 12 opportunities on the Stefanos Tsitsipas serve during their fourth round encounter on Sunday.

7 – Grand Slam quarter-finals reached by Karolina Pliskova in her last 10 Grand Slam appearances.

9 – wins and 0 losses for Pliskova so far this season. Same goes for her fellow Czech Petra Kvitova.

10 – It took Roberto Bautista Agut 10 Grand Slam fourth round appearances before he finally reached the quarter-finals. His five-set win over last year’s runner-up Marin Cilic saw the Spaniard move into the last-eight of a Major for the first time. He was 0-9 in Slam fourth rounds prior to this fortnight.

21 – Serena Williams has now won 21 of her last 22 matches against top-five players at Majors.

44 – winners struck by Serena Williams in her three-set win over Halep.

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Serena Williams beats world No 1 Simona Halep to reach Australian Open quarter-finals

Press Association Sport 14:25 21/01/2019
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Serena Williams stayed on course for a 24th grand slam singles title at the Australian Open with victory over world number one Simona Halep in a tremendous battle on Rod Laver Arena.

Halep was in the unusual position of going into the match as the number one seed but also the underdog against a player she had beaten just once in nine previous encounters.

The Romanian, who saw off Venus Williams in the previous round, dug in superbly after losing a one-sided opening set to force a decider, and might well have come out on top had she broken for 4-2.

But Williams saved three break points, broke Halep in the following game and served out a 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory to set up a last-eight meeting with Karolina Pliskova.

Speaking on court, Williams said: “It was a really intense match, some incredible points. I love playing tennis, I love this court and it’s really cool to be back out here playing.

“I really needed to elevate my game and there’s a reason why. She’s a great player. I had to just play a little bit like I knew I could and I did, and I think hopefully that was the difference. I’m such a fighter, I never give up. There’s definitely something that’s innate.”

For all her impressive achievements since returning from maternity leave, Williams had only beaten one top-10 player and had looked nervous particularly in her two grand slam finals against Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka.

After mistakenly coming out onto court ahead of Halep when the players were announced and having to retreat into the tunnel, much to the amusement of her opponent, Williams looked like maybe she would again struggle to play freely as she dropped her opening service game to love.

But the 37-year-old has looked fitter and more assured throughout this tournament and that initial impression was swiftly dispelled as she raced through the rest of the set without losing a game.

Halep did not hold serve until the opening game of the second set and was then broken again as the match threatened to run away with her.

But the Romanian got a foothold just in time, breaking Williams for 2-2 and from there the match changed, with Halep managing to compete with her opponent’s power.

Handling Williams’ serve, unquestionably the best in the history of the women’s game, was another matter, but, when Halep did get her chance at 5-4, she grabbed it.

Halep spoke on the eve of the match about not being intimidated by Williams any more, and it certainly appeared that way as she confidently held serve in the early stages of the decider.

Williams was the player struggling to hold on in the rallies and Halep forced three break points at 3-2 only for her opponent to save them all.

That proved the turning point, with Williams seizing on Halep’s serve to break in the next game and producing some of her best tennis of the match to serve it out.

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Alexander Zverev suffers disappointing Australian Open exit to Milos Raonic

Press Association Sport 14:10 21/01/2019
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Zverev has been to just one Grand Slam quarter-final.

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev suffered his latest grand-slam disappointment with a bad-tempered fourth-round loss to Milos Raonic at the Australian Open.

The 21-year-old beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic back-to-back to win his biggest title at the ATP Finals in November.

But he was unable to improve his record of having reached only one slam quarter-final as he suffered a heavy 6-1 6-1 7-6 (5) defeat to resurgent Canadian Raonic.

After breaking serve in the opening game of the match, Zverev incredibly lost 12 of the next 13 games and showed his frustration by destroying his racket after going 4-1 down in the second set, smashing it repeatedly on the ground.

He produced a better effort in the third set and saved two match points at 4-5 but Raonic, who began his tournament by beating Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka, was ultimately too strong.

“I played bad,” said Zverev. “The first two sets especially I played horrible. It’s tough to name one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that.”

There was no doubt about Zverev’s commitment to smashing his racket, eventually flinging the mangled mess of metal and string dismissively to the court.

“It made me feel better,” he said. “I was very angry, so I let my anger out.”

Zverev has become all too used to the narrative that he has under-performed at the Slams and this performance felt all the more disappointing after his success at the O2 Arena.

But the German believes winning that title may have hampered his chances here, saying: “I didn’t have a very long off-season, didn’t have a lot of rest. But this is us as tennis players. I’m happy how the season ended. I wouldn’t want it the other way.”

He has been seen as very much the leader of the next generation, and his results across the board reflect that, but an increasing number of different young players are going further than him at the majors.

Here, that includes his good friend Frances Tiafoe and, of course, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who stunned Roger Federer on Sunday.

Discussing the rivalry among the group, Zverev, who is coached by Ivan Lendl, said: “I was happy for Foe, obviously I’m very close to him. I’m happy that the other young guys are doing well, as well. Nothing but the best for them.

“This is one of many tournaments. You can’t really compete every single week saying you made semis there or quarters there, beat that. I want to be the best, but not this week.”

Raonic believes he could be benefiting from his incredibly tough path through the draw.

He said: “It’s not fun necessarily before the tournament starts to look at it and say, hey, you play Nick to most likely play Stan in the first two rounds. You’re hoping for a bit more time to really work your way into things.

“But then on the other end of it I dealt with those challenges really well. Right now I’m here playing some extremely good tennis, I believe. Hopefully I can make that count.”

Raonic arrived in Australia two years ago looking like the man most likely to break the stranglehold of the big four after reaching the Wimbledon final and finishing the year ranked world number three.

Two years of repeated injury setbacks have sent him back down the pecking order, but he believes he is a better player than he was in 2017, even if the knocks have taken their toll.

The 28-year-old said: “I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years and you don’t have to think about things as much. Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively. I was trusting a lot more.” 

Provided by Press Association Sport

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