Stefanos Tsitsipas scored his first clay-court win of 2021 against one of the most in-form players of the season, easing past fellow Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
The No. 4 seed earned a decisive break in each set and saved all break points faced on serve to advance after one hour and 24 minutes on Court Rainer III.
“I was quite aggressive today and had games where I was serving really well,” Tsitsipas told Prakash Amritraj at the Tennis Channel desk in Monte Carlo. “It wasn’t easy playing against him, considering I haven’t played him before and I didn’t know what to expect. He started pretty strong and I could tell he really wanted this win. I pushed back and knocked him out when I had to.”
The Greek No. 1 has displayed impressive consistency to reach the quarterfinals or better in his first five ATP main-draw events—finishing runner-up to Alexander Zverev in Acapulco last month—and, ranked at his career-high of world No. 5, is surely on many short lists for Roland Garros success after making his first semifinal in Paris last fall.
A 2019 finalist and semifinalist in Madrid and Rome, respectively, the 22-year-old has sought frequent advice from three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten.
"He has helped me a lot,” Tsitsipas said earlier this week. “I trust him, I feel we have things in common. I wish I could have him with me, but it is important for my career that we talk, that he can help me."
Karatsev came to Monte Carlo as a proven commodity on hard courts—having backed up his Australian Open run with a first ATP title in Dubai—and with a solid clay-court resume, winning 17 Challenger match wins on the surface. Debuting in Monte Carlo on Monday, the Russian blasted through heavy conditions to defeat Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets.
Holding a pair of break points to start the match, Karatsev couldn’t convert, and it was Tsitsipas who soon took the initiative, breaking at his first opportunity and holding comfortably to sweep the opening set.
“I was expecting him to be further back; it’s not easy to play on the line on clay!” he said. “Very few people can do that, so I was impressed with how he played in the beginning. He moved a few steps back later on and I reconstructed my tactic against him.”
The second set proceeded similarly, only it was the 27-year-old Russian under threat early on serve. Though he overcame a 0-40 deficit in the opening game, he allowed Tsitsipas another opportunity to break shortly thereafter.
Tsitsipas gamely saved two more break points on his own serve to consolidate and ultimately book his place in the round of 16.
“There’s different preparation going on before clay. There’s a lot of sliding, so I’m working on that. I like to slide on the dirt, and I think certain tactics work better on clay than they do on hard or grass, like opening the court with a kick serve and trying to attack with the forehand. I also feel quite comfortable doing things with my backhand, so I have my second weapon right there. My Plan B.”
Awaiting him in the next round will No. 16 seed Cristian Garin, who ousted Canadian youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime earlier in the afternoon. Tsitsipas won both of his most recent encounters with Garin on clay last fall in a Hamburg three-setter.
Around The Grounds...
Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz made a successful transition to clay, navigating a tricky three-setter to knock out Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. In top seed Novak Djokovic's section of the draw, the No. 13-seeded Pole is fresh off the biggest title of his young career, and will next play Dan Evans after the Brit shook off a dramatic second-set tie-break to advance over Dusan Lajovic, 6-3, 6-7 (11), 6-2.
Former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov defeated Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-3, 6-4; seeded 14th in Monte Carlo, the Bulgarian will next face Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who overcame a loss of eight straight games to survive Kazakh Alexander Bublik, 6-4, 0-6, 7-5. Dimitrov could face 11-time Monte Carlo Masters champion and No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal later in the week; the former No. 1 will first take on Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis in his opening-round match.
Norwegian youngster Casper Ruud captured an all-Scandanavian clash against Holger Rune, defeating the Danish teenager, 6-2, 6-1 to set up a third-round encounter with No. 7 seed Diego Schwartzman. Also in the bottom quarter—left open by No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, who was forced to withdraw after a positive COVID-19 test—is 2019 champion Fabio Fognini; the No. 15 seed kicked off his title defense with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Miomir Kecmanovic, and will next play Jordan Thompson for a place in the round of 16.