At another tennis tournament, Stefanos Tsitsipas winning without much ado against a little known opponent to get through to the fourth round might be considered dull.
At the still prodigious age of just 24, Tsitsipas is by now a familiar figure at the business end of grand slams. At Melbourne Park, he is already a perennial contender, having made it to the semis in three of the past four years.
Stefanos Tsitsipas on his way to a straight-sets victory.Credit:Getty Images
By contrast, his opponent Tallon Griekspoor had before Friday never seen what the third round of a major tournament looks like, let alone won one. The Dutchman came into the match in good nick but no one outside his close family expected him to seriously trouble Tsitsipas and beyond a tight second set, he didn’t, the No.3 seed prevailing 6-2, 7-6(7-5), 6-3.
Yet, at this tournament, where even the most creative writers at Netflix would dismiss as far-fetched the sequence of misfortune and melodrama to befall some of the world’s best players in the opening few days, Tsitisipas’s uneventful progress has come as a blessed relief.
With Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud both gone and Carlos Alcaraz having never got on a plane, Tsitsipas is the highest-ranked men’s player left at Melbourne Park. And with Novak Djokovic’s campaign seemingly hamstrung and Andy Murray’s in need of a good lie-in, Tsitsipas is yet to lose a set, has dropped only two service games and spent only four and a half hours on court.
He is fit, in-form, well-rested so far, as avoided the scheduling chaos that has resulted in some of the best matches of the tournament being played in distant time zones.
As this year’s Australian Open waits for someone to seize the extraordinary opportunity on offer here, Tsitsipas in his more contemplative moments – and the self-described Japanese culture buff assures us he has his plenty – might well be asking himself, why not me?
When asked about the way the draw has opened before him, Tsitsipas was understandably cautious. He next faces another young, emerging talent in Italian Jannik Sinner. Prior to Friday night’s matches, still had Daniil Medvedev, a player who has knocked him out of two semi-finals here, on his side of the draw.
Tsitsipas shakes hands with Tallon Griekspoor.Credit:Getty Images
“I’ve never been making predictions because the sport that I chose to play is unpredictable,” Tsitsipas said. “Of course, there are favourites. Everyone knows that. If my mind is not there, [it] doesn’t matter who I’m playing. If I’m not able to generate good shots, hit big shots at important moments, be daring at important moments, doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net.”
Another, more pressing question is whether Tsitsipas can carry enough people with him, however far he goes, to provide this tournament the kind of catch-fire storyline that its organisers, broadcasters and once-a-year tennis fans crave. Can Tsitsipas this year light up Melbourne Park in the way that Marcos Baghdatis, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and, more recently, Ons Jabeur were able to do?
In his post-match, courtside interview with Jim Courier, Tsitsipas provided a solid audition for the part. When asked how he negotiated the match, he tried on some local lingo: “Yeah, fair crack of the whip mate, it was great.”
If he keeps winning, a suck of the sauce bottle can’t be far away.
From there, he reflected on how nice it was to play tennis beneath a warm but not-too-hot sun, with Greek flags fluttering in a light breeze, and relayed how he spends a half hour after every match writing postcards and letters to his fans around the world.
“What a lovely day for tennis, isn’t it? It is great playing in sunshine like this. This is what Melbourne is all about.” He’ll get little argument from Murray, who endured tennis’s endless night against Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Given Tsitsipas has one of the sport’s most expansive repertoire of shots, ridiculous good looks and a physique that could have been sculpted from Athenian marble, it might all sound a little too good to be true. The “man of the people”, as Courier light-heartedly dubbed him, has amassed $27 million career prizemoney, resides in the tax haven of Monte Carlo and is the face of Rolex.
That’s OK. This tournament has reached the stage where it will happily suspend reality to sprinkle some magic on the depleted men’s draw. To this end, Tsitsipas is needed in Melbourne for a while yet, fair crack or not.
For daily updates of all the tennis action during the Australian Open, sign up for our Sport newsletter here.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article