Tsitsipas stuns Nadal to set up Madrid showdown with Djokovic

Sports May 12, 2019 00:13

There is fire in the eyes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as they get closer to a grand slam and move into a different mental space, ready to suffer for their art. But there is another young lion with, “the look”: the 20-year-old Greek wonder Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas stuns Nadal to set up Madrid showdown with Djokovic
Rafael Nadal reacts to his semi-final defeat. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

His stunning 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win here over Nadal, a five-times champion, was adorned in grit and passion, earning him a place in Sunday’s final against an opponent celebrating a total of 250 weeks as No1 in the world.

Defeat here, after earlier struggles on his favoured clay, have suddenly cast doubt on 32-year-old Nadal’s chances of winning the French Open – previously considered a heresy. Djokovic, bidding to hold all four majors concurrently for a second time, will go to Roland Garros with a spring in his step if he can beat Tsitsipas, who must be exhausted after a hectic week.

It is a measure of his gathering charisma and willingness to gamble on his talent that Nadal’s home crowd gave Tsitsipas polite encouragement in his many moments of heroics, although there was no doubting they wanted their own man to win.

Nadal tried eye-bulgingly, fist-pumpingly to deliver for them in a tennis match that had all the energy of a world title fight but Tsitsipas countered the closing blows brutally.

Nadal had dropped only one set all week – to Félix Auger-Aliassime – and was a firm favourite to be playing his 54th match against Djokovic in the final. However, he was broken three times in losing the first set and looked vulnerable. He then gave up only one point on his serve in the second set to level the match and it was the young contender who seemed spent. It was an astonishing turnaround by Nadal and there was more to come.

Tsitsipas, behind in the serving cycle, had to save two break points straight away. He won a magnificent point at the end of a long rally in the next game to grab a couple of looks on Nadal’s serve but could not convert them. He pounced in the fifth game, though, moving Nadal around with power and angles for the break.

Tsitsipas stuns Nadal to set up Madrid showdown with Djokovic
Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic shake hands after their semi-final. Photograph: A Perez Meca/REX/Shutterstock

A backhand for a double break and 5-2, followed by Nadal’s dumped volley, silenced Court Manolo Santana. Tsitsipas, who had been up until 4am after fulfilling a doubles commitment, had the verve of youth about him as he all but ran to the service line to finish the job.

Nadal bullied his way to two break points and Tsitsipas hit long. There was room left yet, serving at 3-5, for the Mallorcan to deliver late drama. Tsitsipas got to match point; Nadal saved. Tsitsipas scorched the dirt with a crosscourt forehand for another chance. Nadal cashed in on a daring and difficult half-volley at the net for a second deuce point. But he clipped the net and again stared at the exit. An outrageous drop-shot kept him in the tournament. He butchered a backhand volley: match point number four – and one last weary shot did for him after two hours and 35 minutes. Tsitsipas went to his courtside chair and wept. Later he said it was “definitely the best match of my life”.

It is rare to witness Nadal searching vainly for clues on clay. On Sunday it will be Djokovic’s turn to feel the heat of a player who knows no fear on a tennis court, whatever the surface.

Djokovic, too, had to draw on all his controlled passion to dig himselfout of a few holes when beating Dominic Thiem, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) over two hours and 22 minutes in the first semi-final.

“Coming into the match, I thought he was the favourite to win,” Djokovic said of the Austrian, who beat Federer on Friday and Nadal on his way to winning in Barcelona. “Next to Rafa he probably is the player who puts most spin and rotation on the ball. I knew that I need to be closer to the line and try to dictate the play, mix up the pace. If he has a lot of time, he is as good of a player as you can get on this surface.

“It would be deserved if he would win the match. He was a break up in both sets. Maybe I should have closed it out when I was serving for it 6-5 but I got a little bit nervous and made some unforced errors. I wasn’t serving that well. But when I needed it in tie-break, I got it.” It was Djokovic’s first win against a top-10 opponent on the surface since 2017.

In a women’s final that brought together two of the game’s most passionate players, Kiki Bertens’ tears switched from despair to joy when she beat the world No 3, Simona Halep, 6-4, 6-4, erasing the memories of falling to Petra Kvitova in a draining three-setter here a year ago.

The Dutch player, who moves into the world’s top five for the first time, looked shattered when she went 3-1 down in the first set but she worked her way back into contention and was relieved to see Halep’s forehand float long on set point.

Tsitsipas stuns Nadal to set up Madrid showdown with Djokovic
Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands celebrates winning the women’s final 6-4, 6-4 against Romania’s Simona Halep. Photograph: Sergio Pérez/Reuters

Bertens broke early in the second set, gave it straight back and broke again, each time Halep putting too much on her forehand as she strove for the lines. Halep, who had fought off a heavy cold most of the week, looked drained at the end but saved two match points before a Bertens drop-shot was just beyond her control.

“I know I can beat a lot of girls,” said the beaming winner. “I can compete with the best of the world on clay.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/may/11/novak-djokovic-dominic-thiem-madrid-open

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