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Match of the Day: Tsitsipas sizzles to steamroll Simon

  • Ravi Ubha

Stefanos Tsitsipas began his Australian Open 2021 campaign with a 6-1 6-2 6-1 rout of former world No.6 Gilles Simon under the lights at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday. 

The build-up 

Tsitsipas and dad Apostolos turned into a comedy act at last week’s ATP Cup. 

When Apostolos began Greece’s final press conference with, “I have to thanks,” his son jumped in with a “to thank.” 

To which papa replied, “If we decide to make an English lesson right now, let's switch off the microphones and do that.”

Facing Simon can be no laughing matter, despite his advanced tennis age of 36. His recent book is entitled This sport that makes you crazy, and Simon’s counterpunching style can drive the best in the game nuts. 

He coaxed 100 unforced errors out of the current King of Melbourne, Novak Djokovic, at Australian Open 2016. 

“He likes to play long matches,” Djokovic, who prevailed in five sets, said that day. “He likes to play long rallies.”

Djokovic wasn’t kidding. 

You might remember Simon won a 71-shot rally against countryman Gael Monfils at Australian Open 2013!

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 at AO 2021

Tsitsipas is a different type of player with an aggressive mindset, and a contrast of styles often makes for great viewing. 

Throw into the mix the massive, vocal support received by Tsitsipas in Australia — the 2019 semifinalist called Australia a “second home” with its huge Greek population — and the makings were there for a memorable night if Simon could find some of his old form. 

Story of the match

Simon lost for the fourth straight time to fellow Frenchman Jeremy Chardy at the Murray River Open last week — in the second round — after a tough 2020 season. Tsitsipas conversely went unbeaten in singles at the ATP Cup. 

Simon needed a good start on Tuesday to possibly plant a seed of doubt in Tsitsipas’ mind in the pair’s first meeting, but the opposite happened. 

Tsitsipas held to love and broke in the next game, when he got the better of Simon in a 22-shot rally. The first point Tsitsipas lost on serve came via a double fault at 2-0, 40-0. 

Those double faults were contagious. Simon hit them back-to-back to trail 4-0 and the first set ended in a 25-minute blur. 

Tsitsipas took control early, and never gave Simon an inch

Simon couldn’t cope with the zip on Tsitsipas’ groundstrokes and left his comfort zone in an attempt to alter the flow. 

In the third game of the second set, for example, he tried a high-risk backhand down the line that went long and then lost his serve on yet another double fault. 

Tsitsipas inflicted more trauma by holding from 0-30 at 4-1 in the second and two sets finished in an hour. 

Simon’s hopes of recording a first top-10 win at a Grand Slam since 2015 Wimbledon faded, but maybe he could delay the inevitable like he did against Nick Kyrgios 13 months ago at Melbourne Park? 

But no. Tsitsipas’ lob as he ran towards the net got the fans going as did a rocketed backhand down the line at 2-0 in the third. 

It ended in 92 minutes. 

“I think I played a spectacular match from beginning to end,” Tsitsipas said after the match. “My level is good so far.”

Key stats 

Tsitsipas didn’t face a break point and only dropped 12 points behind his own serve. He struck 25 winners compared to Simon’s six and Simon ended with more unforced errors at 26, including six double faults. 

Tsitsipas won 45 points to Simon’s 17 in rallies of zero to four shots — but also 37-25 in rallies above four shots. 

What this means for Simon

Will Simon chalk up the loss as a tough day at the office against a probable future Grand Slam champion or reflect deeper and ponder his future? Regardless, a competitor like Simon is bound to be wounded. 

In his first meeting with Tsitsipas, Simon couldn't cope with the Greek's power game

His defeat came a day after another of the “new musketeers” of French tennis, Gael Monfils, exited to 21-year-old Finn Emil Ruusuvuori. 

What’s next for Tsitsipas? 

Given his pedigree and past record at Melbourne Park, Tsitsipas is poised for another extended stay at the Australian Open. The highest seed in his half, Rafael Nadal, is coping with a back injury. 

But Tsitsipas knows things won’t be as simple as the first round. He will meet one of the home favourites next in a wildcard with ties to Greece, Thanasi Kokkinakis. 

One injury after another means Kokkinakis’ ranking sits at 267, but he won his last two top-10 matches against Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori. 

“I know Thanasi for a long time,” said Tsitsipas. “I’m expecting a big fight.”