“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”— Pericles, an influential Greek statesman.
The 2021 Australian Open is a Grand Slam tennis tournament that is currently taking place at Melbourne Park, Australia.
It is the 109th edition of the Australian Open, the 53rd in the Open Era, and the first Grand Slam of the year. It was originally scheduled for 18–31 January 2021, but was postponed by three weeks to February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are currently in the 2nd week of the Grand Slam and are at a point where matches get tougher for the players.
After the Women’s Semi-Final line got finalised, it was time for the last of the 4 Men’s Singles Quarter Finals between Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas. It was scheduled for a 7pm local time start. The Night sessions of AO 2021 have turned out to be a stark contrast to the Day & the Afternoon sessions with temperatures remarkably softening by 8-10 degrees.
Heading into this match, there was nothing much to choose between the Spaniard (ranked 2nd) and the Greek (ranked 5th and the youngest in Top 10 world rankings).
Both had spent almost identical amount of time on the court. So no outright edge one had over the other.
Having said that, Head 2 Head record between the two had been a no contest. Rafa had led that comfortably by a margin of 6 (7-1). One slight edge, and a critical one, Tsitsipas had over Rafa was the three day break he had between his Round 3 game and this one. (Round 4 was a walkover).
SET 1 (Rafa to serve)
Rafa won the toss and chose to serve and held it to 30 (means the opponent’s score). Tsitsipas held his to 0 followed by Nadal and then the Greek returning the favour again. Tsitsipas showed no initial nerves on his serve, rock solid. Next 3 serves were held comfortably by both and it was 4-3 to Rafa.
This is usually a scoreline where one would go all out to break the opponent’s serve and put a stamp of authority on the match. 20-times Grand Slam winner shifted his gears and broke the Greek’s serve at 30. Rafa, as had been seen at so many instances, did the inevitable and closed the set at 6-3. It seemed it was just “another day at the office” for Rafael Nadal.
Statistically speaking, apart from that one break point converted by Rafa, there was not much between the two. (Not ignoring Rafa’s 2 double faults as they didn’t prove to be costly).
SET 2 (Tsitsipas to serve)
The iron was hot and Rafa, as old habits die hard, looked to hit it hard. Straightaway broke Tsitsipas’ serve to 30. That break of serve did lay the foundation of Nadal’s demolition of his opponent in the set. He took the set 6-2 by breaking Tsitsipas’ serve twice and winning 90% of his First serve points. Same metric for the World #5 dropped down to 55% from 67% in Set 1.
Rafa as expected, did raise his game and cornered Tsitsipas on multiple occasions.
When Rafael Nadal is 2-0 up in a Grand Slam tournament, it is a foregone conclusion that the 3rd set will be wrapped up and the demoralised opponent will go back to his coaches and say :
SET 3 (Tsitsipas to serve)
Held his serve at 0. So did Nadal. This loop repeated itself again. We were at 2-2 without a point lost on either of the serves. Tsitsipas dropped 1st point on his serve but still held on comfortably. Nadal continued to holds his serve at 0. This loop got repeated again and we were tied at 4-4 with only 2 points lost on serves.
Mind you, the games were not getting over in a jiffy. Intense rallies, baseline battle, hard hitting strokes were still the name of the game. Tsitsipas clearly had tweaked his game a bit – serves had become more lethal, started playing a more % game and had cut down on the unforced errors. He did exude class in the set.
Both held their serves comfortably and a tie-breaker loomed upon the Rod Laver Arena.
Tie-breaker went neck to neck till the 1st change of sides. Stefanos Tsitsipas decided to rise to the occasion and create his own luck. He looked Nadal in the eye at every point and asked pertinent questions. His interrogation proved to be too much and forced Nadal into a couple of unforced errors and wrapped up the set 7-6.
Tsitsipas didn’t show any emotion or even looked at the player’s box where Patrick Mouratoglou (his mentor) was watching from along with the coaching team. He, as a matter of fact, didn’t even change his t-shirt during the changeover break. He was lusting to go back on court as quickly as possible.
SET 4 (Nadal to serve)
This time it was Tsitsipas who had felt the tide changing in his favour. He made Rafa toil hard to hold his serve. Tsitsipas did transform into a different animal. He made quick work of holding his serves (dropped only 5 points in the set) and attacked Rafa’s. Each service game of Rafa went the distance. Rafa managed to hold on but barely.
It was 4-4 and the champion had to hold his serve to take a slender but crucial lead. Tsitsipas had other plans. 9th game of the set got nerve-wracking for the players, their coaching staff and for the viewers. That game was stuffed with unforced errors and somehow the 5th seed managed one less. Took the set 6-4!
One more set, is it??
This match had already entered uncharted territory. It had rarely happened that Rafael Nadal conceded two sets after wrapping the first two comfortably.
Tsitsipas was again prowling on his side of the court way before the chair umpire had called “Time” to start Set 5 proceedings. Both the players had already spent 3 hours and 9 minutes on the court.
SET 5 (Nadal to serve)
Whatever exhaustion or weariness was present just vanished from the court. Even without the ardent tennis fans of Australia, the tension on the court had turned palpable.
Both the players held their serves calmly and the scores were levelled at 5-5. These 10 games had consumed 44 minutes which by no stretch of imagination was paltry. Long rallies were still the lifeblood of this contest.
11th game : Nadal to serve.
Tsitsipas, in the previous game, had hit an ace and 2 forehand winners. Probably played his best game of the match. In the same momentum, he pounced on Rafa’s serve like a Puma and strained on him three unforced errors to take the game and a decisive lead.
12th game : Tsitsipas to serve.
He started shakily with a Forehand Unforced Error followed with another one. All of a sudden, the scoreboard said 0-30.
Was Nadal clawing his way back as he had done countless times in his 20-year old glittering career?
Tsitsipas with the help of a Nadal error and an ace later made it 30-30. Nadal’s tryst with Unforced Errors didn’t cease to exist and the Greek had reached a match point. Nadal in his never-say-die-Bruce-Willis style saved 2 match points. Now it was Tsitsipas who had become a bit shaky. Lost 2 straight points to give Nadal a break point. He managed to muster up all the courage, grit and determination and won the next 2 points to reach his 3rd Match Point.
Will there be another twist in the tale? Will the World #2 yet again manage to pull off a heist?
Tsitsipas’ serve had gone deep, kissed the sideline forcing Nadal to stretch to his left. Nadal’s return wasn’t ominous enough. Both exchanged in yet another riveting rally before Stefanos Tsitsipas set his name into the Semi-finals by blasting a backhand winner. He surely had empowered himself, and to some extent the younger generation, to breakthrough the stranglehold of Federer, Nadal and Novak over the World of Tennis. (57 Grand Slams among these 3)
He along with Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev hold the key to the next golden generation in Men’s Tennis.
It was only the third time Nadal had lost after winning the first two sets. “There are going to be matches you lose like today against one of the best players in the world,” Nadal said. “It is something that happens.”
Tsitsipas plays Daniil Medvedev later tonight which is touted to be another cracker of a game. Don’t miss it!
Idea about penning down my thoughts about this match was conceived right after the Men’s Quarter Final line up was finalised. Admittedly, I did pray for a close contest between these two but not to such degree. This was just a sensational viewing experience!
Appreciate your time!