Rafael Nadal proved too hot to handle for Stefanos Tsitsipas on a sweltering evening at Australian Open 2019, ending the 20-year-old’s surge to the semifinals with a definitive 6-2 6-4 6-0 victory.
The 2009 champion maintained the ruthless streak and first-strike style he has shown in his first tournament since the 2018 US Open, hitting 28 winners and denying the Greek a single break point until the final game of the match to wrap up victory in one hour, 46 minutes.
“It was a great match, and it’s been a great tournament,” said Nadal, who awaits either world No.1 Novak Djokovic or first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Lucas Pouille in Sunday’s final.
“I’ve played well every day. After a lot of months without playing, it’s probably this court, this crowd, that is giving me that unbelievable energy.
“To start the season like this, when a few weeks ago I was in Brisbane, having to take a very tough decision for me not to play there. In that moment it was difficult for me to imagine being in this position today.
“That week in Brisbane in practice worked very well for me, then I arrived here and had another good week of work. And since the tournament started, I’ve felt really well.”
With the Australian Open’s Extreme Heat policy in effect during the afternoon’s action on Thursday, the roof that was closed for the women’s semifinals was reopened moments before both players took to court, with temperatures slowly easing off from 39 degrees Celsius as the match wore on.
“Being honest, when it’s that warm I’d prefer to close the roof,” Nadal said. “I’ve played some great matches here with the roof closed. I love the feeling of playing with the roof closed. It’s great that all the most important events in the world have courts that can close the roof, with warm conditions and with rain.”
No.14 seed Tsitsipas had ended six-time former champion Roger Federer’s bid for a hat-trick of titles in the fourth round, backing it up with victory over Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the final four. But the exertions of a cumulative 15 hours and 31 minutes on court – some five hours and 10 minutes more than Nadal – appeared to have caught up with him at Rod Laver Arena.
In contrast, Nadal was refreshed and relentless from the outset. The 17-time Grand Slam champion broke Tsitsipas twice in the opener, as his aggressive style this fortnight overwhelmed the Greek’s efforts to live with him from the baseline.
Tsitsipas did adjust in the second, but whatever question he asked of Nadal, the Spaniard answered. When the 20-year-old hammered a dipping backhand at him from point-blank range, Nadal nailed the reaction volley. When he dragged him beyond the tramlines, Nadal smoked a forehand winner that rifled between the umpire’s chair and the net post. And when he played the perfect approach, Nadal’s cross court pass clipped the net to beat the Greek.
Yet still Tsitsipas came, battling back from 0-40 at 2-2 to hold with some fearless forays to the net. This was the variety and attacking verve that had steered him past Federer, but against Nadal, with the youngster’s wits blunted by fatigue, it was unsustainable.
From 3-4 in the second, Nadal moved up another gear. His forehand, so fearsome at this Australian Open, was at its very best during a sudden nine-game surge that left Tsitsipas chasing shadows. Thundering passes down the line, disguised lobs landing yards inside the baseline as winners, deft drop shots with Tsitsipas buried at the back of the court: Nadal showcased them all as the Greek’s challenge faded.
His only hiccup came in the final game of the match when, having skipped forward to bury a volley, he found the net to hand Tsitsipas his only break point opportunity of the match. But there would be no consolation prize, as two wayward drives and a netted return sealed a comfortable third win for the Spaniard against his young opponent, once more in straight sets.
Nadal will face either six-time Melbourne champion Djokovic or 28th seed Pouille in what will be the Spaniard’s fifth Australian Open final. The world No.1 and Frenchman meet in the second semifinal on Friday.
“All semifinals are interesting and tough,” Nadal said. “Novak is the favourite now, and he’s been in that position so many times. For Lucas, it’s the first one, but he won an amazing quarterfinal match and is playing so well.
“I always thought that Lucas is one of these players with amazing potential. He can beat everybody when he’s playing well. So let’s see. It’s true that Novak is unbelievable, so for Lucas it will be difficult, but it’s a tennis match – anything can happen.”
Source: Michael Beattie