Heading into his Roland Garros semifinal with Alexander Zverev, 22-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas had already played five-setters at all four of the majors. Some were triumphs, others disasters. Today, both possibilities were present—the former early, the latter late—most vividly when Tsitsipas served at love-40 in the opening game of the fifth set, having just lost a two-set advantage.

But in the end, there came victory. Tsitsipas took three hours and 37 minutes to earn a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 win and become the first player from Greece to reach a Grand Slam singles final.

Classic? Gem? Masterpiece? These words describe a match where the players compete in blow-by-blow lockstep, an exchange of query and response as the two scrape their way to the grand denouement. As both the score and the texture of many a rally revealed, that was not how this five-setter went. Instead, call what happened today a testimony—a case study of each man’s skills with racquet and heart. In the end, one man’s beat stronger just when it mattered most.

“Today if I break him the first game of the fifth set, maybe the outcome would be different.” said Zverev. “I didn’t. But still, I mean, I can't go down two sets to love against a top player like Stefanos and expect to win every single time.”

“It was a difficult match. It was a match full of emotions, full of so many different phases that I went through, said Tsitsipas. “It was just exhausting. It was difficult to handle all of these things and put them together, kind of compromise on some others.”

In tears as he spoke courtside with French TV commentator Marion Bartoli after the match, Tsitsipas gathered himself. Picture Stefanos in his youth; an ambitious young boy, living in a small Greek town outside of Athens, watching Roland Garros on television.

“My dream was to play here,” he told Bartoli. In the stands, Tsitsipas’ father and coach, Apostonos, held his right hand near his heart.


WATCH: Tsitsipas is overcome with emotion after winning his first Grand Slam semifinal (he was 0-3 at this stage).

Through the first two sets, Tsitsipas smothered Zverev. In the first set, Tsitsipas snapped up Zverev’s opening service game. The micro-tactic was to peck away at Zverev’s weaker side, the forehand. The macro-strategy was tremendous energy, movement, engagement and a hornet’s nest of concepts, including drop shots, whipped groundstrokes, forays to the net.

Through those early stages, Zverev’s portfolio of ideas was minimal, confined mostly to big serves and hard groundstrokes. When he suddnely took a 3-0 second-set lead, it vanished. Though Zverev had overcome a two-sets-to-love deficit in his opening match in Paris, that had come versus a qualifier. It was hard to imagine he had it in him to do that versus a player of Tsitsipas’ caliber. And at this stage, Tsitsipas was harnessing his passions exquisitely.

But while Tsitsipas’ mix of heart and head is visceral and downright obvious, Zverev is often more cryptic in those categories. Once the third set began, though, he competed with vigor. Everything improved—his power, depth, precision, consistency. As Zverev took the third set and grabbed the lead in the fourth, it was as if two different matches had taken place.

A double-fault put Tsitsipas down 0-40 to start the fifth set. Could Zverev at last earn a win over a Top 10 player in Slam, on his tenth try?

“It was nerve-wracking,” Tsitsipas said about the situation. But he won the next three points. At deuce, Tsitsipas sharply dipped a crosscourt backhand passing shot that Zverev half-volleyed over the net, making it easy for the Greek to crush a forehand winner. On the next point, back to the tactic: a discouraged Zverev netted a forehand.

“I was trying to be in a good relationship with myself and get encouraging and pushing forward for something good to happen,” said Tsitsipas. “I knew I was not done at that point, I had more to give. I was playing much better. All I had to do was put in the concentration.”

As Zverev took the third set and grabbed the lead in the fourth, it was as if two different matches had taken place.


The conclusive turning point came with Zverev serving at 1-2. He went up 30-0, only to lose the next two points. At 30-all, faced with a mishit Tsitsipas drive hit high and down the middle to his forehand, Zverev misfired. On the next point, he netted a backhand.

Even then, Zverev had another chance. Tsitsipas served at 3-1, 15-30 and hit a 78 m.p.h. second serve to Zverev’s stronger side, the backhand. But Zverev missed the return. Two points later, Tsitsipas consolidated the service break with an ace to go up 4-1.

To Zverev’s credit, he fought off four match points at 2-5 and went up 0-15 on Tsitsipas’ serve in the next game. But as he had at the start and now, at the finish, Tsitsipas was the one willing to grab control. At 0-15, the Greek laced a sharp crosscourt forehand that broke open the rally. Arriving at 40-15, tactic and strategy merged in the form of a wide slice serve to the forehand that generated every player’s dream ending: untouchable.

“I said it before,” said Zverev, “I'm not at a stage anymore where great matches are something that I'm satisfied with. Today nothing. I lost. I'm not in the final. Was it a good match? Yeah. But at the end of the day I'm going to fly home tomorrow. There's nothing positive about that.”

Tsitsipas won't have much time to celebrate before his first Grand Slam final—against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.

Tsitsipas won't have much time to celebrate before his first Grand Slam final—against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.

For Tsitsipas, the dream of a lifetime endures.

“There is the final, which is exciting,” said Tsitsipas. “I’m looking forward to leaving my entire body on the court.”

And like everyone else on the planet, Tsitsipas is well aware that whether he plays Rafael Nadal or Novak Djkovic, he’ll need every last pound.

“Both of them it will have to be physical, both of them attention to detail, full concentration. There isn't much difference between those two. I feel it's got to be the same commitment and same level of tennis and intensity regardless of who is going to win.”