It was a real thunderclap that fell on the Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, shortly before midnight, Australian time, with the elimination of the Spaniard Rafael Nadal by the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, in five sets, after a amazing rocking match (3-6, 2-6, 7-6 6-4, 7-5).
Clearly dominating and in total control for two sets, the world No. 2 was knocked down by the aggressiveness and ferocity of Tsitsipas, who signed a monumental feat there. It is indeed only the third time in his career that Nadal has lost a match after winning the first two sets. Friday, Tsitsipas will find in the semi-final the Russian Daniil Medvedev, who beat Rublev a little earlier.
And yet, for a long time, we believed that history would be without surprise and without fear for the corecordman of the Grand Slam titles (20). After a very early match where Stefanos Tsitsipas bulged his chest a little in service, enquiring on his commitment two entry shutouts, the result was quickly in the standards favorable to the Mallorcan. Too shy in the game, lacking initiative, the Greek suffered the tempo and too often made mistakes, like on this forehand which gave Nadal the first break of the match at 4-3.
Tsistsipas helpless for two sets
Everything then went smoothly for the Spaniard, who put on an extra layer in the second set, breaking from the start on a devastating uncrossed forehand. Opposite, Tsitsipas had a look of mine, a livid complexion and emaciated ideas. In the gesture, at that time, the Greek exposed his wounds and his powerlessness to change the situation.
Plunged into the abyss of doubt and tactical questioning, Tsitsipas was still on his way to “take a good one” against Nadal, as in the semi-finals, here in 2019. Camped on an efficient service (90% of points won behind his first ball in the second inning), the Mallorcan was unrolling. Opposite, the world No. 6, totally lost, dropped twenty unforced errors in two sets and, it was thought, all his illusions.
But now, tennis is a sport of resilience, both physical and mental. Rafael Nadal knows something about it, he who spent his career fighting. But on Friday, Stefanos Tsitsipas donned this costume of light there, with simply remarkable brilliance and bravery. In the third set, first, he simply braced himself behind his face-off. Regaining efficiency in the service, he thus remained alive, without even existing on the service of the Spaniard, who chained 23 points in a row on his commitment! But Tsitsipas didn’t care. He took the match to the tie-break. The coin was in the air and Rafael Nadal was going to totally miss the moment he caught it.
A 1-0, mini-break in the decisive game, the Spaniard “drank” an easy smash. Behind, it was the incredible climbing! Nadal committed four other unforced errors in the tie-break! Tsitsipas was given for dead and here he was reborn! It was then a completely different match that began. Perked up, refreshed, probably unaware that Nadal had until then lost only 2 matches out of 248 after winning the first two sets (Miami 2005 against Forger Federer and US Open 2015 against Fabio Fognini), the Greek opened finally the eyes and saw clearly! He gained a meter in the field, took the ball much earlier, deprived the Spaniard of preparation time, of replacement. Aggressive, ferocious, it was now he who orchestrated, who dictated, who led the debates.
After a perfect start to the match, Nadal lost the thread. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)
Nadal was now heckled, jostled, on a wire
Logically, Tsitsipas came back up to par, won the fourth set by giving himself four break points in the set. Rafael Nadal was now heckled, jostled, on a wire at each of his commitments. Physically, the Greek, who had benefited from an extended rest with Matteo Berrettini’s package in the previous round, did not drop a notch, which was not the case for the Spaniard, who now found himself quite regularly three meters from the ball on accelerations, almost baseline half-volleys catapulted by the winner of the 2019 Masters, who no longer backed down, who no longer hesitated.
But Rafael Nadal, as an immense champion, was still struggling, protecting his serve with authority… until this game was completely harvested at 5-5. Suddenly, Nadal collapsed, committed three gross faults and dropped his white serve! Stefanos Tsitsipas now had to finish the job. It was not easy. The Greek saved a break point thanks to a big first, before concluding on his third match point, with a perfectly placed long line backhand. While he had almost been swept away like a straw in three sets, Stefanos Tsitsipas had just accomplished an authentic feat, which should largely feed him in the future and this, from Friday, against Daniil Medvedev, for his third Major semi-final.