Like Snow In Athens, Tsitsipas Looks To Cool Medvedev’s Hot Streak
Halfway across the globe, snow was blanketing the Acropolis, as uncommon a sight as they come in the Greek capital; like a good stin igia mas (“to our health”) toast without the ouzo.
What had just occurred in Melbourne was equally as rare. For only the second time in 225 Grand Slam matches in which he had taken the first two sets, Rafael Nadal had suffered defeat, a stunning 3-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-5 upset at the hands of Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
Temperatures may have plummeted back in his native Athens, but Tsitsipas was white-hot Down Under. He had outhit the No. 2 seed and 20-time major champion from the baseline, his strokes as clean, as purposeful as they have been at any point in his five-year professional career. When the four-hour saga was over, Tsitsipas shared an intimate courtside moment with his camp, which included his father and coach, Apostolos Tsitsipas.
“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,” said the fifth seed. “It was a first-timer. 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,” he added.
Tsitsipas, No. 6 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, has been here before. He introduced himself to the tennis world at large at this same event in 2019, an uber-talented 20-year-old with uncommon poise; a YouTube diarist whose ambitions seemed to stretch far beyond the confines of a tennis court. He reached the semi-finals that year, too, upending then-third-ranked Roger Federer along the way. (He would sweep the Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic before turning 21.)
But as big as his win over Federer was, even his triumph later that year at the Nitto ATP Finals, his comeback on Wednesday night against Nadal — the same player who had halted his run in the semi-finals in Melbourne in 2019 — somehow felt like more of a bona fide coming-of-age moment. On 17 February 2021, Stefanos Tsitsipas had arrived in earnest, taking full flight, as he would tell us, like a bird.
“I woke up today and I felt really relaxed and I just felt like things were going to go my way. I don’t know how to explain it. I was very serene during the match, regardless if it was the first set or the fifth one,” said Tsitsipas. “I’m very proud of the attitude that I showed… It’s a sign of maturity and a sign of strength, I think.”
Tsitsipas will need all the strength he can muster in the semi-finals against fourth seed Daniil Medvedev, who hasn’t lost a match (19-0) since October 2020. He’s just 1-5 against the streaking Russian, though he did claim their most recent encounter at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals.
“Medvedev is going to be a difficult task,” said Tsitsipas, who, with his win over Nadal, is now 2-4 against Top 10 competition at the Slams. “He’s in very good shape, playing good tennis, playing accurate, playing simple. [I] might have said in the past that he plays boring, but I don’t really think he plays boring. He just plays extremely smart and outplays you. He’s somebody I really need to be careful with and just take my chances and press.”
Medvedev made quick work of his quarter-final opponent, needing just over two hours to dispatch countryman and ATP Cup teammate Andrey Rublev. Playing authoritative, thinking man’s tennis, the 25-year-old is into his third Grand Slam semi-final. The 2019 US Open runner-up is fast becoming a darling of the tennis cognoscenti, Hall of Famer-turned-broadcaster John McEnroe among them.
“He’s basically my favourite guy to watch now because he just plays old-school a little bit,” said McEnroe. “He’s strategising, he’s thinking ahead. These are the types of guys that we need and that we’re going to be seeing.”
Calling the all-Russian showdown from his ESPN bunker on the East Coast of the United States, McEnroe threw out an apt rock and roll analogy. If Rublev is a souped-up electric guitar in the vein of the late Eddie Van Halen, said McEnroe, then Medvedev is a classic Fender Strat; retro, refined, but capable of making some big noise, too.
“The more you win in a row, the more it’s better as a feeling,” said Medvedev. “I don't have the exact word even to describe this. I’m happy about my level in all the matches that I won, that I’ve played. Some matches I could say I could do this better, that better. But for me, the momentum, the confidence is a big part. I think you can see that once I lose it, I start to make more unforced errors and that’s where my game can be a little weaker. I’m really happy that I managed to keep this momentum going so far, and it feels great. Hopefully, I can continue it for at least two matches.”
Can Tsitsipas curb that momentum? Stranger things have happened. Like snow in Athens.