Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas will contest his first grand slam semifinal after backing up his upset of Roger Federer with a four-set Australian Open 2019 triumph over Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday.
In just his second Australian Open main draw appearance, the 20-year-old ended the Spaniard’s giant-killing run 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6 to become the youngest slam semifinalist since Novak Djokovic at the 2007 US Open.
It is quite the burden to carry blazing a path for a nation without a rich tennis history, but the Greek was determined his run wouldn’t end after pulling off the biggest win of his career over Federer less than two days before.
Keen to avoid the dreaded comedown so many players suffered after claiming a breakthrough win, Tsitsipas recovered from a break down in the first and third sets to eventually stifle the spark of an ailing Bautista Agut.
“It all feels like a fairytale, almost,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working hard for.
“I feel a bit emotional but not too much because no, I worked real hard to get here. At the start of year I said my goal was semis of a grand slam. When answering this question I thought I was crazy. But no, it is real and it just happened.”
Able to draw a line through that goal in just the fourth week of the new season, Tsitipas would be forced to re-evaluate.
A showdown with No.2 seed Rafael Nadal or 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe awaited.
“I’m happy that I reached my goal. But that’s like the starting point to go deeper,” he said. “That’s like the minimum, I would call it.”
Bautista Agut was riding a nine-match winning streak, having won in Doha leading in, but his route to a maiden grand slam quarterfinal could not have been much tougher.
After five-set victories over Andy Murray and John Millman, he had dismissed 10th seed Karen Khachanov in straight sets before another five-set triumph, this time over last year’s runner-up Marin Cilic.
“I played a lot of five sets, yes. Today I was a little bit tired or feeling the last matches I played here,” Bautista Agut said.
“But, I think it’s my best result in a slam. I have to be happy about how I played during all the tournament.”
Tsitsipas, too, had carved his way through a torrid path of his own, needing four sets in each of his four previous clashes.
For both men, it had been a physically and emotionally taxing route to the last eight.
With sets split, the third shaped as crunch time for both and when the Greek was handed his second time violation of the match, trailing 2-4, the loss of his first serve only fired him up.
He tore through the next four games, ripping a forehand winner after a lengthy crosscourt exchange to bring up a set point and stole the set from a break down with a scrambling backhand drop shot down the line.
Tsitsipas was handed another code violation as he left the court for a bathroom break at the completion of the set – this time for coaching.
But by the fourth set, Bautista Agut was all but a spent force, struggling to stick with his fresher younger opponent.
With his energy levels depleted, the Spaniard double-faulted to hand Tsitsipas a match point.
Bautista Agut saved it with an all-or-nothing forehand catching the line and survived to force a tie-break.
But after three hours and 19 minutes, this would be Tsitsipas’s moment.
Beating Federer was no flash in the pan.
“I would say the biggest challenge was preparing for that match,” Tsitsipas said of facing Bautista Agut less than 48 hours after defeating his idol.
“Social media, general media were going crazy after that win. It got people’s attention.
“I knew that win against Federer was important, played a huge role in my image, like who I am. But I knew that the biggest challenge was today’s match, that I can prove myself once again.”
Source: Dan Imhoff