Tsitsipas beats Nadal in five-set thriller to set Medvedev semi showdown

Medvedev beats Rublev for 19th straight match-win, and over 11th straight top-10 man

Stefanos Tsitsipas (Photo: Tennis Australia / Handout)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (Photo: Tennis Australia / Handout)

They have been two of the form players through this most trying and testing 12 months. They also happen to be compatriots and good friends. But the elder of the Russian mates, 25-year-old Daniil Medvedev, had thus far established the edge over 23-year-old Andrey Rublev, the former now ranked No4, the latter No8.

Stir into the mix that Medvedev had beaten his compatriot in all four senior tour matches—without yet dropping a set—and the taller man had every reason to be confident that he could reach a third Major semi-final.

Both were 8-0 on the season after joining forces to win the ATP Cup for Russia. But while Rublev led the tour last year with five titles, Medvedev had cranked up some seriously heavyweight results. He had beaten 10 top-10 players in winning his last three titles—the Paris Masters, ATP Finals and the ATP Cup. He was also a former US Open finalist, and had won two further Masters titles in 2019.

His progress in Melbourne, as he attempted to stretch his unbeaten run to 19 wins, had been tougher than Rublev’s, including his first five-set win in a Major against Filip Krajinovic. Rublev had yet to drop a set, and benefitted from a retirement by Casper Ruud in his quarter-final.

Yet in hot and humid conditions, the younger Russian struggled to live with Medvedev after a close opening set. Rublev was the first to be pressured on serve, finally broken to go 2-4, but he broke straight back. There was then little between them as they headed to a tie-break, only for Medvedev to pile on the pressure to break for 7-5.

Again, they went toe-to-toe in the early games in the second set, but Rublev survived a gruelling sixth game, and then had three chances to break in another long game, but Medvedev held for 4-3, broke, and served it out, 6-3.

The third set was much more one-sided, with Rublev suffering in the oppressive conditions. Medvedev made two straight breaks to lead 4-0, and served out the win, 6-2, after two hours.

It took the Russian to an extraordinary 19-match winning streak, but his exertions thus far resulted in cramps before he left the court. Nevertheless, he intended to watch the match that would determine his semi-final opponent.

No5 seed Stefanos Tstisipas, in pursuit of his second Australian semi-final, his third Major semi overall, certainly had a job on his hands against world No2 Nadal. The Spaniard, the champion back in 2009, had been looking better and better with each round after arriving on the Melbourne courts with a back strain. He was yet to drop a set, and he counted in his favour a 6-1 lead over the young Greek, and a clean sheet on hard courts.

Certainly Tsitsipas had been carving out his status as one of the favourites to break the dominance of the ‘big three’, but while he had knocked on the door at the highest level—and won the ATP Finals in 2019—he was yet to win a Masters title or reach a Major final.

He came into this one well rested following a walkover from Matteo Berrettini in the fourth round, but that did not stop Nadal taking control in the early stages of this match. Indeed it looked as though it would be a one-sided affair, with Nadal breaking for a 5-3 lead in the first set, serving it out at 6-3, then breaking twice in the second to take it 6-2.

Tsitsipas looked short of ideas and not sure how to counter the fine serving and aggressive play of Nadal. But come the third, he lifted his level, and without a break point on either side, they headed to a tie-break—still with Nadal in the driver’s seat. The Spaniard had won 24 of his 25 points on serve in the set but a clutch of errors now opened the set for Tsitsipas to grab 7-6(4).

That marked a distinct shift in momentum at the start of the fourth, with Nadal fending off a break point in the first game, and another before holding, 3-2. He was being pressed on every service game, and Tsitsipas finally got the breakthrough for 5-4. He served it out comfortably, 6-4, and continued to swing freely off both wings in the decider.

Perhaps surprisingly, Nadal was consistently notching up more winners than his opponent, but was also steadily making more errors, too: In the fourth set, Nadal had 14 winners for 14 errors, the Greek nine winners for only six errors.

That set alone had lasted and hour, and Nadal was starting to show signs of fatigue, though not of backing off. No quarter was given on either side through 10 games, 5-5, but all at once, Nadal made three unforced errors—and one more delivered a love break.

Yet Tsitsipas knew as well as anyone who has tracked the Spaniard through almost 20 years of pro tennis that the 20-time Major champion would dig even deeper. Nadal worked two break chances in a six-and-a-half-minute game, but the youthful legs and prodigious talent of the single-hander would not be denied: He held for the match, 7-5, after than four hours, becoming just the second man to beat Nadal from two sets down.

The bitter sweet conclusion, however, saw the young player gaze at the four corners of a vast, empty arena, not a fan and not a cheer for this outstanding achievement. That did not dampen his emotions, though. He said afterwards:

“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.

“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.”

He does now face, in Medvedev, and man who has beaten him in five of six meetings, but in the knowledge that he beat the Russian in their most recent, at the O2 in 2019. A lot of water has gone under the bridge for both since then: It will be a fascinating contest.

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