With a little help from Reilly Opelka’s injured knee, Stefanos Tsitsipas has turned lemons into lemonade at the Western & Southern Open. If you designed a truly terrible draw from scratch, it might look something like the Greek’s this week. He survived three of the world’s biggest servers in Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Reilly Opelka only to be rewarded with a semifinal clash against yet another member of the 140+ mph club, Milos Raonic.
Historically, Tsitsipas has struggled against big servers. His combined record against Raonic, Isner, Ivo Karlovic and Nick Kyrgios is just 3-6, with one of those victories coming from a Karlovic withdrawal late in the match.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble returning Raonic’s serve at the Australian Open,” Tsitsipas told press. “I was very upset I wasn’t able to find solutions that day. His serve was really a weapon, caused a lot of damage. It's one shot that you can get knocked down all the time, and you're just there, getting punched in the face with one shot. You can’t do much.”
But if we’ve learned anything about the 22-year-old during his brief tenure as a pro, it’s to never doubt his problem solving ability or his will to win, which is perhaps the strongest of all his young peers.
As tennis analyst Matthew Willis pointed out, instead of trying to perfectly time a blistering first serve return, Tsitsipas has taken the Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka “block” approach to handling the pace. So far, simply chipping the return into play has paid dividends on big points.
Tsitsipas showing off his new & improved blocked returns. First vs Anderson, and last night again vs Isner.— Matthew Willis (@MattRacquet) August 26, 2020
This time rewarded with a crucial mini-break to start 2nd set breaker.
Really like his (newly patient) high-margin mindset on these big points@TennisTV #CInCyTENNIS pic.twitter.com/fZ1lYuouYd
For Tsitsipas to turn the tide against Raonic, however, he’ll have to find a way to direct his chip return to the Raonic backhand. Inviting the 6’5 Canadian to the net off of a forehand approach is unwise. But practice makes perfect, and by now Tsitsipas should be comfortable handling yet another huge serve.
It’s always tougher to predict matches just a few days before a Grand Slam, as effort levels can wane, but it’s unlike both Raonic and Tsitsipas to turn in early, especially with an ATP Masters 1000 title up for grabs. In the end, expect the world No. 6’s familiarity with big servers this week in New York to pay off in the huge-hitting semifinal clash.
The Pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas