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Stefanos Tsitsipas fights past Alexander Zverev to reach Rome final for the first time
Ever hear the notion that metabolism is destiny? For a case study, check out the Greek’s win over Zverev in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Published May 14, 2022
WATCH: Stefanos Tsitsipas defeats Alexander Zverev in the 2022 Rome semifinals
Ever hear the notion that metabolism is destiny? For a case study, check out Stefanos Tsitsipas’ 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
Zverev served in the third set at 2-2, 30-all. This was the third straight game where he’d been down 15-30 and won the point. Now, as the final set neared critical mass, it was easy to imagine Tsitsipas anguished at the opportunities he’d lost, Zverev confident in the wake of a trio of escapes.
The slight drop in energy that had surfaced with Zverev in the second set became even more apparent in the third. With the match hanging in the balance at 2-2, 30-all, a painfully familiar Zverev sequence: double fault, followed by a forehand into the net. Able now to at least imagine a finish line, Tsitsipas took charge and soon went ahead 5-3. Zverev, by this stage looking demoralized, was surprisingly unable to hold serve in that game, making four weary errors, the last a backhand sprayed long.
“I got a little bit tired, to be honest,” said Zverev. “I played the final Madrid. Played long matches here. I mean, I'm not a machine. I'm a human being. This is normal. But he played well in the end. He deserves to win. He played better than me in the second and third set.”
The win boosted Tsitsipas’ record versus Zverev to 8-4, including 2-1 on clay this year. It was the kind of dogged effort that showcased Tsitsipas’ ability to fight through adversity, an attribute not always noticeable amid the various controversies—illegal coaching, long bathroom breaks, dismissive comments in the wake of losses—that can cloud his brilliant tennis and zest for competition. Following a tough start—and no bathroom break after the first set—Tsitsipas won this match less with any particular sequence of shots and more with strong focus and positive energy.
“I was able to return a few on the third a bit more than him, get the ball in play, stay in those rallies, not give away much,” said Tsitsipas. “I think at some point I saw he was a little bit impatient, went for a few, and didn't succeed in his effort. I was really trying to stay there as long as possible and make every single one count.”
The first set had been marked by two narrow turning points, both of which went in Zverev’s favor. Serving at 2-3, 15-30, Zverev had been lured to net by a Tsitsipas drop shot. Despite a good look at an inside-in forehand pass, Tsitsipas struck it wide. Zverev went on to hold for 3-all. In the next game, Tsitsipas served at 30-40. He served-and-volleyed smoothly, hitting a fine kick serve to the Zverev backhand. But the return skipped off the net, no doubt causing Tsitsipas to misfire his backhand volley. From there, Zverev held comfortably, closing out the 50-minute first set at love.
It’s strange to watch a Zverev match. In theory, at 6’6”, his big serve and powerful backhand should let him take charge of tons of rallies, including a strong presence at the net. But there are also many moments when Zverev plays like the world’s tallest counterpuncher, content to merely drive balls mildly crosscourt, without exceptional depth or strategic purpose other than to keep the ball in play and, should it be necessary, react to something his opponent has done.
No one would ever accuse Tsitsipas of playing reactive tennis. Comparing their styles, Zverev said, “He has more variety to his game.” But for much of this match, Tsitsipas struggled to deploy his many tools with exceptional proficiency. For each player, today was often a case of one-step forward, one-step back.
Start with Zverev, who sagged quickly in the second set, dropping his opening service game. Then it was Tsitsipas with the slight tumble, at 2-0 facing two break points before at last holding after an eight-minute game. Even when Tsitsipas leveled the match, it was hard to tell which player had the momentum. And for what it’s worth, in their previous matches, only once had the player who’d lost the first set gone on to win, Tsitsipas the winner back in 2018.
Tsitsipas earned a tour-leading 31st match victory and advanced to the finals in Rome for the first time in five appearances. He’s also now reached the finals at all three ATP Masters 1000 events played on clay, having been runner-up in Madrid in 2019 and the winner in Monte Carlo the last two years.
Comparing Monte Carlo and Rome, Tsitsipas said, “For me Monte Carlo has been the very first club that I visited as a kid when I started touring in the south of France to play local French tournaments. I remember that was the first club that I went to. Then I saw my mom's name engraved on the plaque. That's a very vivid memory that I have.
“But Rome is closest to my country. It almost feels like it could have been in Athens, it could have been held in Athens.”
The distance from Athens to Rome is approximately 650 miles. Tomorrow we’ll see how well Tsitsipas channels that gap—and after having been extended to three sets in three of four matches this week, Tsitsipas will continue to showcase the high energy that makes him one of tennis’ most intriguing contenders.