MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – It will take quite something if Stefanos Tsitsipas is to reach a maiden Slam final with Rafael Nadal in his way, but the former champion is ready for him.
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Rafael Nadal  v Stefanos Tsitsipas  | H2H: Nadal leads 2-0
There have been a couple of key stories that have brought us to this point. The rise of the enigmatic Stefanos Tsitsipas has captured the imagination as he downed his idol Roger Federer in the fourth round.
Meanwhile any doubts people had about Rafael Nadal to get over his injury stutters and concerns from the start of the season have been truly put to rest with his dominant displays so far – the Spaniard is yet to drop a set, while Tsitsipas has had four-set wins all the way.
The pair met last year when Tsitsipas made his first Masters final in Toronto. Ironically it was the only hard-court event last year that Nadal stayed the whole course for, having retired or withdrawn from all others in 2018 as he continues to battle with his body.
Tsitsipas put up a fight after losing the second set, but it was a little too late to suffer a second defeat to Nadal in a final, the first being on the clay in Barcelona where he was given quite the beating.
He said, following his quarter-final win: “I played him once, once on clay, once hard court. I felt very close of beating him in Toronto, though the score was 6-2, 7-6. 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.
“On clay, it was a different story. I felt like I had no chance after losing in Barcelona 6-1, 6-2. I felt like he’s on completely another level on clay than on hard.
“It’s going to be interesting. I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”
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At the start of the year, few would have thought that Nadal would be in any kind of form to have been so dominant. Pulling out of the next round of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships and yet another hard-court tournament withdrawal in Brisbane seemed to sound a mournful tolling bell.
Not so. He has been in very much in control in all his matches and if we count 7-5 or tie-breaks as constituting a ‘challenge’, then he has been challenged just twice in his run to the semi-final.
Nadal said, about Tsitsipas: “He’s a charismatic player. Good shots from both sides, good serve. Yeah, is a good challenge for me. I hope to be ready for it. I think I am playing well.
“We know that Stefanos is one of these players that can win against everybody. Was a surprise but not a very big surprise. I know Stefanos is ready to win against everybody.”
It would be an amazing fairy-tale for Tsitsipas to make it to his first Slam final. However, the best he might be able to hope for is learning from his Toronto experience and becoming the first man to take a set off the former champion in this tournament.
Adrenalin can only get you so far – experience will come to this talented young man, and he will be challenging for Slam titles, that much is for sure. However, you get the feeling that Nadal has very much unfinished business in Melbourne after retiring in last year’s quarter-final and the talented ‘old-soul’ of Tsitsipas probably will not stand in his way.
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