Men's singles fourth round
A clutch Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Jannik Sinner's comeback bid with a gritty five-set victory on Sunday night to reach yet another quarterfinal at the Australian Open.
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Tsitsipas saved 22 of 26 break points – most playing his attacking brand of tennis – on the way to a 6-4 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-3 win in four hours as Rod Laver looked on in the stadium that bears his name.
Meanwhile, Tsitsipas converted on five of his 11 chances, breaking through for 4-2 in the fifth after the Greek sensation had been overwhelmed by Sinner's power and sprinkling of finesse under the lights the previous two sets.
Tsitsipas is now into the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the fourth time in his last five visits, the outlier coming in 2020 when it took a Wimbledon finalist, Milos Raonic, to defeat him.
"I felt like I spent an entire century on this court playing," Tsitsipas told interviewer Jim Courier on court. "It felt so long. What a great night. That was superb, a ripper as they say here," he added, drawing laughter.
"I had an unbelievable opponent on the other side of the court playing incredible tennis in the third and fourth set. Stayed really calm, just like Mr. Rod Laver used to do in his day."
Tsitsipas entered last season fresh off elbow surgery and wasn't sure if he would be able to play AO 22. He did. His finest performance on the way to a semifinal showing was likely against Sinner in the quarterfinals.
Tsitsipas didn't face a break chance back then – quite a contrast – and won a healthy 60 per cent of points behind his second serve to cruise to a 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory. The Italian's lone win in five tries against Tsitsipas came on clay in 2020.
While the third seed powered to the fourth round without dropping a set, Sinner had to rally to beat the ultra-fit Marton Fucsovics in five sets.
Assisted by targeting the Hungarian's backhand, the last three sets went 6-1 6-2 6-0 as the 15th seed completed his first comeback from two sets down.
As it turned out, Sunday was almost comeback number two.
Story of the match
The match began in the worst possible fashion for Sinner – especially after what happened last year. He was broken, with Tsitsipas then fending off four break points in his ensuing service game. The trend never waned.
As the set developed, rallies could be likened to the fast and the furious.
Sinner, whose flat groundstrokes are a sight to behold, pummelled a crosscourt forehand on the run to level for 4-4.
Tsitsipas, cheered by his Greek supporters, immediately countered for 5-4 after a Sinner forehand unluckily clipped the tape and went wide earlier in the game.
A glorious Tsitsipas one-handed backhand into the corner earned another break for 2-1 in the second. He was rolling. Or so it seemed. Once again, Sinner replied, only for Tsitsipas to crunch a running forehand crosscourt pass to break for 5-4.
Such was the brilliance of the shot, it felt he wouldn't be denied in the set. So it proved, barely, as he thwarted another break chance for a two-set advantage.
Perhaps mindful of his two-set comeback against Fucsovics, Sinner cracked on. He was third on the men's tour last season in victories from a set down.
Tsitsipas dropping serve at 1-2 in the third, from 40-15, completely changed the flow.
While Sinner continued to hit with zip, he was doing so with more consistency. And the drop shot became a useful tactic as Tsitsipas was pushed beyond the baseline.
Tsitsipas remarkably kept the fourth set close after he was broken again from 40-15 early, digging out of 15-40 and then later 0-40.
Starting serve in the fifth with a routine – finally – hold settled Tsitsipas. It is one thing to come from two sets down to level, but another to go all the way.
Difficult, as Sinner discovered.
One couldn't help ponder the irony after Sinner escaped from 0-40 at 1-2 in the fifth.
After Tsitsipas had saved all those break points, would Sinner's heroics in the fifth ultimately be the deciding factor? Not so, since he succumbed for 2-4.
There were no issues closing proceedings out, Tsitsipas finishing with a trademark inside-in forehand.
He said loosening his arm and wrist made all the difference to his serve in the fifth.
"I feel my face burn from the effort I put in. I may need to jump into the Yarra River," he told Courier, who jumped into the Yarra after he triumphed at the Australian Open in 1992.
Tsitsipas has only ever lost once from two sets up – against the now 21-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic in the final of the 2021 French Open.
What this means for Tsitsipas
When the draw surfaced in Melbourne, the seedings suggested a Tsitsipas-Felix Auger-Aliassime quarterfinal. But Tsitsipas will instead face Jiri Lehecka, who upset the Canadian earlier on Sunday, in the last eight.
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The Next Gen star's breakthrough tournament indoors in Rotterdam in February 2022 ended in the semifinals against Tsitsipas in three sets.
Tsitsipas overall holds a 7-0 record against the players remaining in his half of the draw.
What's next for Sinner?
Will Sinner be disappointed at missing out on the quarterfinals? Of course, especially given he was close – again.
He dropped to 1-4 against the top 10 at a major, exiting to Djokovic in five sets at Wimbledon and to Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open in one of 2022's thrillers after holding a match point.
But facing Tsitsipas at Melbourne Park is not a simple task.