Five things we learned on Day 9

  • Suzi Petkovski

1. Stefanos has earned his souvlaki 

The Tsi train rolled into the semifinals on Tuesday, with Stefanos Tsitsipas backing up his epic defeat of Roger Federer to end the run of fellow newbie quarterfinalist Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6(2).

MORE: Tsitsipas into semis after toppling Bautista Agut

Tsitsipas, 20, is the youngest semifinalist at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2003, and the youngest anywhere since Novak Djokovic in 2007. But the ‘Greek freak’ would not be the youngest finalist in recent years, should he get that far.

MORE: Five things we learned on Day 8

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis was 19 and a No.54-ranked outsider when he made his electrifying run to the 2006 final, and even led Federer by a set and a break. 

Tsitsipas, at No.14 already Greece’s best male player, is all too aware of Baghdatis’ history in Melbourne, even visiting Stalactites in the old Greek precinct of Lonsdale St, which was Baghdatis’ late-night haunt. The city taverna famously named a souvlaki for Baghdatis.

Tsitsipas isn’t in the final yet – he has to get past Rafael Nadal on Thursday night – but Stalactites has already invited him to create his namesake souvlaki.

Baghdatis, 33, lost in the last round of qualifying for AO2019. He and Tsitsipas planned to team up in doubles. “I sent him a message one week ago; it was all arranged,” Tsitsipas related. “Then he texted me and said that he was actually in Cyprus. I will actually thank him later that he left. I think it definitely helped [not] having to play doubles. Waste of energy.” 

Baghdatis is now playing a Challenger in France.
 

2. No major wins are no problem for Danielle Collins

From zero Grand Slam wins to semifinalist on debut in an Australian Open main draw. Who does that? Danielle Collins, that’s who.

The 25-year-old former college champion has been scattering opponents before her like a Collins St tram. The No.35 followed up her 6-0 6-2 demolition of former No.1 Angelique Kerber with another flinty 2-6 7-5 6-1 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her very first experience of Rod Laver Arena.

MORE: Collins streaks into AO semis

“I didn’t even practice here before,” the Floridian told on-court interviewer Sam Smith post match. “This time last year I was playing a Challenger in Newport Beach.”

The University of Virginia graduate was 0-5 in Grand Slam play coming into Melbourne Park. On Tuesday, she entered the semifinals ahead of Serena Williams.

Who would ever have picked this scenario: Williams has to beat Karolina Pliskova to join the unseeded Collins in the final four.

Wherever Collins finishes here, with at least $900,000 in prizemoney, the retail-therapy loving Floridian has earned a splurge on Melbourne’s most fashionable street – yep, Collins Street. Paris end, of course.
 

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Collins has come from the clouds to qualify for a maiden major semifinal

3. The Aussie Open was career-defining for Hall of Fame duo

Hall of Fame 2019 inductees Mary Pierce and Li Na met the press on Tuesday and reminisced about their career-making turns at the Australian Open.

“I’m just very proud,” said a relaxed Pierce, 43, champion here as a power-hitting 20-year-old in 1995. “When I look back to my career, see everything I’ve done, where I’ve come from, I’m just amazed.

“From a little girl in Florida, just went to be with her friend after school, happened to pick up a racquet and hit a few balls, to be where I am today is absolutely incredible and amazing.”

MORE: Li, Pierce reflect on road to Hall of Fame 

The Australian Open was Pierce’s breakthrough major. “Winning that one, it’s your first one, it’s just an amazing feeling because that’s your dream come true, it’s what you want to achieve.

“One of my goals as I started out the year, ‘95, was to finish top five and hopefully win a Grand Slam tournament,” recalled Pierce, who played for her mother’s native France and is these days based in Mauritius. “I did it in the first month of the year. It’s a very special feeling because it’s your first one.”

Li Na is the first Asian player to enter the Hall of Fame. The Chinese trailblazer was the first Asian to contest a Grand Slam title round here in 2011, losing in three sets to Kim Clijsters. Months later at Roland Garros she was the title-winner, setting off an Asian tennis boom.

“The best memory here is 2011,” Li said through a translator. “Although I lost it, that give the confidence to myself, and inside myself [to] say I could [win]. I was one step away [from] champion of a Grand Slam.”

Now a mother to two children and at 36, a few months younger than Serena Williams, Li was asked if she ever considered travelling the tour as a playing mum, like Serena and former No.1 Victoria Azarenka.

Official translator dispensed with, the old wise-cracking Li emerged. “I can travel with my children, but perfect is without the husband,” she quipped of her long-time and long-suffering coach Jiang Shan. “I don’t think he can help now.

“Yeah, I can’t imagine like Serena or Azarenka, same time play [and] care about the family. I couldn’t do that.”

4. Rafa doesn’t play nice with the kids 

Generational change? Not if Nadal has anything to say about it. The 17-time Grand Slam champion is the only man to enter the semifinals without dropping a set, in the last match on Tuesday ending the run of unseeded Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-4 6-2 in a brisk hour and 47 minutes.

MORE: Rafa’s straight-sets roll runs to semis

The 32-year-old has now smashed the dreams of 19-year-old Alex de Minaur and 21-year-old Tiafoe, with Tsitsipas, 20, his opponent in Thursday night’s semi.

“They can wait a little bit,” said Nadal of the young thrusters. “But looks like they don’t want to wait. They’re here.” 

Nadal is moving through the draw efficiently, spending three fewer hours on court than his trip to the same round last year, when he retired hurt against Marin Cilic.

The No.2 seed is into a sixth Australian Open semifinal. A title win would see him beat Federer and Djokovic to a double career Grand Slam; Rod Laver is the only man to achieve the feat.
 

5. The Next Gen aren’t out of it

World No.39 Tiafoe had nothing to hang his head about after going down to Nadal in his debut major quarterfinal.

“I mean, I don’t know if he surprised me,” said the 21-year-old of his first meeting with Nadal. “I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity. I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken.

“But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in.”

Tiafoe returned serve for his fellow young guns: “Why not?” He said, of the likelihood of 20-year-old Tsitsipas winning the title. “Put us in the right situation at the right time, we’ll take it. Granted, I didn’t tonight, but it’s coming.”