Stefanos Tsitsipas followed up his landmark victory over Roger Federer by beating Roberto Bautista Agut to reach his first grand slam semi-final at the Australian Open.
Backing up breakthrough moments is notoriously difficult but Tsitsipas bucked the trend by battling to a 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6 (2) win in three hours and 15 minutes.
The 20-year-old Greek had to dig deep on Rod Laver Arena, coming from a break down in the first and third sets before proving stronger in the fourth.
He fell to the court when Bautista Agut’s final return landed in the net and can look forward to a clash against either Rafael Nadal or Frances Tiafoe on Thursday.
Tsitsipas’ achievement makes him the youngest man to reach the last four at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2003 and the youngest at any slam since Novak Djokovic at the US Open in 2007.
He said: “It all feels like a fairytale almost. I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working for. I feel a bit emotional but not too much because I know I really worked hard to get here.”
The Greek said he had told his team in the off-season that one of his goals for the year was to reach a slam semi-final.
“When I was answering this question I thought I was crazy but it is real and it just happened,” he said.
With the match taking place at lunchtime rather than in the evening, the atmosphere was rather more muted than it had been for the Federer clash and the danger of a hangover was immediately apparent.
Federer did not manage to break the Tsitsipas serve at all despite 12 chances but Bautista Agut needed only one game.
However, Tsitsipas responded well, recovering the break to make it 4-4 and then continuing his momentum to win the set.
One break proved enough for Bautista Agut to win the second and it appeared his relentless baseline game may have worn down Tsitsipas when the Spaniard broke for 3-2 in the third.
But Tsitsipas continued to fight and believe, and he got his reward.
As in the first set, he broke back for 4-4 and then made it four games in a row to clinch it, putting behind him a bad forehand miss on his first set point to take it on the third with a backhand slice guided onto the line.
Bautista Agut was finally starting to look weary, which was no surprise given his run through to the last eight.
The 30-year-old needed five sets to beat Andy Murray, John Millman and Marin Cilic, with only a third-round victory over Karen Khachanov being in any way straightforward.
He won a long rally with a forehand onto the line to save a match point at 5-6 in the fourth set, Tsitsipas paying the price for playing a little too conservatively.
The Greek did not make the same mistake in the tie-break, stepping forward and going for his shots, and clinched the win on his second match point.
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.”
Frances Tiafoe’s entire press conference is must-see. But this part especially is as real as it gets!
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 20, 2019
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.
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.