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Stefanos Tsitsipas defeats Sebastian Baez on Thursday in Melbourne.

Tsitsipas Passes Baez Test

Greek reached the semi-finals in Melbourne last year

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was pushed hard Thursday by Sebastian Baez, but he found the winning formula, overcoming the Argentine 7-6(1), 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round at the Australian Open for the fourth year in a row.

The Greek never found top form on Margaret Court Arena as he was tested in a physical clash against the resilient 21-year-old. However, he demonstrated an abundance of grit and character,  raising his level in the third and fourth sets to advance after three hours and 22 minutes.

“It wasn’t easy. But I am glad I overcame that obstacle today,” Tsitsipas said in his-court interview. “Lots of fighting, a little bit of swearing, but I am glad to be in the third round. It was a pretty hot day today, but I tried to play with my heart and it paid off in the end.”

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The World No. 4 spent the off-season recovering from an elbow injury, which forced him to withdraw from the Nitto ATP Finals in November. He showed no signs of discomfort against Baez though in their first ATPHead2Head meeting.

“He is a great player,” Tsitsipas said when asked about Baez. “I know he had a good run at the Next Gen Finals, which is an event I played a few years ago, so in order for him to playing at these tournaments it is an indication he has been doing well. He has one of the biggest forehands I have faced.”

Tsitsipas has fond memories in Melbourne, having upset Roger Federer en route to the semi-finals in 2019, before he advanced to the last four again last year. The seven-time tour-level titlist is aiming to win his first major at the Australian Open, with his best result at a Grand Slam a run to the final at Roland Garros in 2021.

In an enthralling first set, Baez was put under pressure on serve by the Greek but found the answers, saving seven break points before he broke Tsitsipas at 4-4 with aggressive ball striking. However, he was unable to serve out the set as Tsitsipas responded with deep returns, before prevailing in the tie-break.

The diminutive Argentine refused to go away though, matching Tsitsipas from the baseline as he fired 13 winners in the second set. In a tense tie-break, Baez won four points in a row from 3/5 to level, but all this did was fire the Greek up, with Tsitsipas driving his groundstrokes through the court with extra pace in the third set to move back in front.

Tsitsipas found the early break in the fourth set and pinned Baez behind the baseline with his heavy forehand as he demonstrated great footwork to dictate with the stroke to advance. 

The Greek will next play Benoit Paire after the World No. 56 advanced to the third round of the Australian Open for first time since 2017 when he upset Bulgarian 26th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(7), 7-6(2). The Frenchman had a strong day on serve, firing 14 aces and winning 82 per cent of first-serve points. He also was rewarded for moving forward, winning 35 or 44 net approaches.

Baez, who reached the semi-finals at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in November, was making his Grand Slam debut in Melbourne. The World No. 88 edged Albert Ramos-Vinolas in five sets in the first round.