Australian Open Semi-final Men’s Preview Rafa Nadal Vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Australian Open Men’s Semi final preview Rafa Nadal (2) Vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (14).
Rafa Nadal has returned from his post 2018 US Open injury lay-off with a fine-tuned hard court friendly game and his usual determination and focus, a lethal mix, as his five opponents so far have found out.
The Spaniard, who had to retire mid match in the Australian Open QF and the US Open SF in 2018, has reached another grand slam semi-final, his 30th, and he’s done it without dropping a set.
Not that he’s injury free- that taping on his stomach is unlikely a fashion statement, though he won’t talk about it, saying in his post interview it was just something that happened in the tournament- but all players play with some form of injury concern and how they manage and cope with that often matters more than anything else.
Nadal’s serve is one example of managing an injury. The shortened motion prevents aggravating the ankle he had surgery on. It’s working well for him, too. He’s faced 15 break points in all and been broken just twice, in his first rounder.
Granted, he’s not faced any one with a return that could be listed in their strengths, and he won’t in his next match either versus Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas has, as it is, more than enough strengths to go round- an intelligent serve, a tremendous forehand and single handed backhand, rare and sharp net skills, to name a few- but none of them can really hurt Nadal enough to keep him out of the match. Nadal is about as complete a player as it gets, and will be coming at Tsitsipas with a great return, depth and speed of shot to keep an opponent back, ground-strokes to better anyone out there and speed and accuracy of passing shot to make any would be volleyer think twice.
Tsitsipas alredy knows just how good Nadal is- they have met twice, last year, with Nadal winning easily in Barcelona and then coming out on top in a more testing encounter in the Toronto final.
Tsistsipas said, after beating Bautista Agut to reach the semi-final, that after that Toronto match:
“I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself I’m going to do much better against him next time. It felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court.”
And that tactical awareness and experience will no doubt help him out in what will be a consolation of a contest for those hoping to have seen another installment of Fedal, and what will be a fascinating match nonetheless for neutrals.
Tsitsipas is the youngest player in a slam semi since Djokovic in New York ’07. Djokovic went on to reach the final, and if Tsitsipas is going to replicate that achievement and give tennis the youthful injection it’s ageing body is crying out for, he’s going to have to play some inspired grand slam champion like material tennis, because Nadal is the man to beat in slams this past 15 years and anything less than great comes up second best.
This match is not a foregone conclusion, though. We know Tsitsipas can back up big wins, that he can produce a very high standard of tennis to beat the game’s best players one after another, that he can play better on the big points than his opponent whoever they are. He did it in Toronto and he’s done it here by following up the Federer win beating Bautista Agut, and that makes him a rare young player, the trend more often being to have a big win and then flame out.
But, what we don’t know, and what this match can reveal, or begin to, is whether he is one of those uber talented players who win their first slam semi-final early on in their careers and finish runner up like a Moya or Tsonga, or if he is one of those who win their first semi and final and become no.1 and win more slams like a Safin or a Kuerten.
Then there’s that even rarer breed, a Federer, Sampras or Nadal, who win their first semi final and then final and go on to become all time greats.
That’s a journey we’re excited to go on with Tsitsipas- seeing where exactly he is going to land on the spectrum of champs, and if he can clear the next hurdle, Nadal. Just as we’ve enjoyed going along with Nadal for his ride, all the way to the far side of legend. A ride that’s still going, and which, if Nadal keeps it up, may end up being the furthest journey of all.
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