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Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz traded haymakers for five sets. The Greek made the pass he needed, while the American came up a volley short
“It was a match with a lot of emotions,” Tsitsipas said. “The stadium was on fire.”
Published Jan 24, 2022
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By the middle of the fourth set, a sense of inevitability had settled over the fourth-round Australian Open match between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz in Rod Laver Arena.
The American led two sets to one. He was coming off a 6-4 third-set win. He was the player who was on top of the baseline and controlling rallies, while the Greek was floundering, playing defense, searching for tactical solutions and not finding them—and then getting hit with code violations for coaching when he looked for answers from his father. The pro-Tsitsipas crowd, desperate for something to cheer, could only muster a low, restless buzz of dissatisfaction. Fritz seemed to have silenced them.
Yet Tsitsipas kept resisting, kept digging balls out, kept scrambling to stay in points, kept mixing slice and topspin on his backhand side, looking for the right formula. He may not have found it, but he hung around long enough to make Fritz nervous. After riding a wave of momentum for the better part of an hour, Fritz suddenly found himself in a perilous position, serving at 3-4, just a couple of errant shots away from the nightmare of having to play a fifth set.
Maybe it was that realization that threw him off, but at 30-15, Fritz made the first bad decision he had made in two sets, going for an inside-in forehand that wasn’t there and missing it long. When he put another forehand into the net two points later, Tsitsipas had the break, had a 5-3 lead, and had the crowd in full throat again. Just minutes earlier, Fritz had seemed sure to be the winner, to record his biggest victory at a major, to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, to finally join the Next Gen elite. Instead, after three hours and 23 minutes, it would be Tsitsipas who would keep his place in that elite, and expose a flaw that remains in the American’s game.
“I’m very proud of myself of the way I fought and stayed consistent in the moments that were very crucial,” Tsitsipas said after his eventual 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win, in which he saved 13 of 15 break points.
The fifth set had the feel of a heavyweight bout. The points were long and hard fought, as they traded haymakers and service holds through the first eight games. But then, again, at 4-4, Fritz was the one to misfire. First he hit a regulation backhand wide. Then he double faulted to go down break point. Then, with the advantage in the rally, he hesitated, waited two shots too long to come to net, and ended up having to dig out a low volley—he couldn’t do it, and his fate was sealed. Fritz was a very respectable 19 of 27 at net for the match, but he couldn’t make the transition there when he needed to most. Tsitsipas, who committed just four errors in the fifth set, made him try one ground stroke too many.
“It was a match with a lot of emotions,” Tsitsipas said, “and I had to keep constantly reminding myself to stay in it and try and find solutions to all these problems, because there was heavy hitting, there was lots of rallies. Serves, big serves from both sides.
“The stadium was on fire.”
With Fritz’s defeat, the U.S. lost its last player in the men’s draw. But the Californian did make a breakthrough by reaching the round of 16 at a major for the first time. And while it must disappointing to lose a match he probably thought he was going to win, he did put himself to the test against a Top 5 player and ended up just a shot or two, and a volley or two, short. It seems clear that Fritz’s transition game is what needs to improve next.
Life doesn’t get easier for Tsitsipas. Next he’ll face Jannik Sinner, who has dropped just one set in four matches.
“I don’t like making any predictions,” Tsitsipas said when he was asked about his chances of winning his first Slam this week. “So I would predict that I’m headed towards the right direction and things look good for me so far. And with the right mindset and with the right attitude and with the right development throughout the tournament, my chances are pretty good.”
He knows now that, even when he falls behind and defeat looks inevitable, he can scrap and scramble his way free.