A place in the Australian Open 2021 final and a potential maiden Grand Slam title awaits the victor of this unmissable battle between players who have emerged as the most dominant from the younger generation of men’s tennis.

Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev enters the match-up with the benefit of achieving success at the final four hurdle. He’s been one step closer to a Grand Slam title than his fifth-seeded opponent, losing a rollercoaster five-set battle to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final in 2019 to earn a piece of silverware.

Comparatively, Stefanos Tsitsipas was felled in his two prior major semifinal outings – by Nadal at AO2019 and Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros 2020. Still, the 22 year-old’s confidence will be soaring as he aims to take one step closer to becoming the youngest Australian Open men’s singles champion since Djokovic in 2008, then aged 20, and the youngest men’s Grand Slam winner since Juan Martin del Potro clinched the US Open a year later, also aged 20.

The Greek sensation on Wednesday scored his second of two career top 10 wins at Grand Slam level, recovering from a two-set deficit against Nadal to secure a spectacular upset on a heart-stopping third match point.

“It was everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m glad that I am where I am today,” Tsitsipas said, adding that he felt like he entered a serene state of nirvana during the Nadal match. “I just played more flawless … I played with no care, and that increased the level of tennis that I put out there,” he said of his free hitting and self-assuredness.

“There is obviously light ahead at the end of the tunnel, and there is plenty more to go.”

There were two years between that victory and his first top-10 win over Roger Federer here in 2019, but Tsitsipas may not have to wait as long to make it a hat-trick. If he is able to produce the same level of huge serving, clinically clean hitting and mental toughness, he’ll no doubt create chances against Medvedev on Rod Laver Arena, the location of his most memorable wins and a court with which he says he feels an “extra connection”.

Still, the Russian right-hander holds a 5-1 head-to-head advantage over Tsitsipas, who notched his sole victory when the pair met most recently at the ATP Finals in 2019.

Medvedev may be able to win more free points on serve, having struck more aces so far this fortnight with 57, equal eighth among men’s singles contenders, compared to Tsitsipas’ 43. He’s also saved 15 of 22 break points compared to Tsitsipas’ 4 of 8, and dropped two sets to reach the final four, half that of his rival.

Medvedev, who posted the third-most hard court wins during the 2020 season behind only Novak Djokovic and his quarterfinal opponent Andrey Rublev, has the self-belief that comes with a 19-match winning streak. Should he extend that to 21 at AO2021, he’ll become the third Russian man to win a Grand Slam behind Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin, who each picked up one of their two majors in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old, who celebrated his birthday last week, acknowledged his streak of success, noting that he was happy with the level of tennis he’s playing.

“The momentum, the confidence [plays] a big part,” he said. “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.”

The Russian described Tsitsipas as an “amazing player”, whose big serving and great volleying makes him tough to play. The Greek has won 71 per cent of his 109 trips to the net, marginally more than Medvedev’s 64 per cent success rate from 83 net points at AO2021.

“I think he’s [improved] physically because maybe two years ago [I] could say, out of five sets it’s maybe not bad to play him. I don’t think it’s the case right now,” said Medvedev.

Tsitsipas noted that his extra time on court – 11 hours and 43 minutes, roughly 90 minutes more than Medvedev’s 10 hours and 11 minutes despite playing one fewer match after an injured Matteo Berrettini withdrew from their fourth-round clash – may mean his body is under more stress during their semifinal.

“Medvedev is going to be [a] difficult task,” Tsitsipas said. “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.”

Source: Gillian Tan