We can never repeat it enough, tennis is above all a mental sport. The quality of the shot, the tactics, the physique, everything disappears as you approach the summit, where the air becomes thinner. On Sunday, Stefanos Tsitsipas may not be the one who most often produced the best tennis, but here he is in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Jannik Sinner, on the other hand, left the court with his head down, filled with regrets for a match he had managed to turn around before seeing it escape him.
For an hour and a half, Tsitsipas generally dominated the debates. Faced with Sinner’s rhythmic game, the Greek offered a lot of variations: grazing slices on the backhand, domed and deep forehands, accelerations followed at the net and well-touched amortizations. Perfect for getting the Italian, who is sometimes uncomfortable in the short game, out of his comfort zone. Three forehand faults from the latter gave him a break from the start.
Tsitsipas more killer in key moments
Sinner also had a hard time taming Tsitsipas’ kicked serve on the outside advantage side, who used it a lot, especially on break points, to deport his opponent off the court and then attack him with his forehand. And despite a successful break by Sinner at 4-3, the 4th in the world logically took over in stride to pocket the first set.
The second set resembled the first, with the variations of Tsitsipas on one side and the power of Sinner on the other. The two players went blow for blow: a break in favor of the Greek and the immediate response of the Italian to return to height (2-2). Once again, the winner of the 2019 Masters accelerated at the end of the set with a white break at 4-4. At 5-4, Sinner got a break point. But despite a timeout warning, Tsitsipas, more realistic in key moments, delivered a service winner, then an ace, and wrapped up the set in stride.
Jannik Sinner. (S. Sanders/Reuters)
Sinner adjusts tactically, Tsitsipas dives physically
As the path to the quarter-finals seemed clear, Tsitsipas surprisingly plunged physically. Quite the opposite of Sinner who has significantly increased his intensity. The 16th in the world has also adjusted by following his net attacks more. He also increasingly resorted to amortization, with great success, like the one that allowed him to save a break point at 3-1 in his favor in the third set. And despite a glaring lack of realism on break points (3/18 after three sets against 4/5 for Tsitsipas), the 21-year-old player logically pocketed the third set on a shutout concluded by three aces.
Jannik Sinner missed 22 break points out of the 26 he got, or only 15% success. Stefanos Tsitsipas, he transformed 5 out of 11 (45%).
The trend was confirmed from the start of the fourth set. At 1-1, Sinner scored another winning drop shot to earn himself a break point. A cushioned water jet from Tsitsipas allowed him to race in the lead. Overtaken in the exchange, less and less effective behind his first ball and more and more imprecise in his strikes (17 unforced errors in the first two sets, 28 in the next two), the Greek clung on as he could. He saved six double break points (three at 3-1, three at 4-2), but the Italian, imperial in service (only five points lost in the set, 12/13 behind his first ball), did not didn’t flinch when it came time to equalize in two sets everywhere: two aces and two winning services to come back level.
“I relaxed my arm and wrist a bit more on serve, which helps me a lot to generate more power”
But while the “momentum” seemed totally in his favor, Sinner was probably caught up in the stakes. At 2-1 in favor of Tsitsipas, he committed three gross unforced errors (off-center smash, double fault and forehand too long) but also offered three break points to his opponent. He got away with it miraculously, especially with a forehand that hit the line for a few centimeters at 15-40. Rebelote at 3-2 where his arm seized up again. And, this time, at 30-40, he gave in on a long forehand fault. The gift too many.
Struggling on serve in the previous two sets, Tsitsipas suddenly found an excellent first serve percentage (92%). “I relaxed my arm and wrist a bit more on serve, which helps me a lot to generate more power”revealed the Greek at the microphone of Jim Courier after a game concluded, without trembling, on a winning forehand in the replacement of Sinner, released under an ovation which will not erase the regrets.
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