October 8, 2020
Stefanos Tsitsipas has a wonderful chance to display his Grand Slam credentials at Roland Garros this weekend.
The charismatic Greek is sometimes described as the future of tennis. Could this be his big breakthrough?
Tsitsipas will play Novak Djokovic in what promises to be a scintillating semi-final on Friday.
If Tsitsipas were to pull off a shock and beat the mighty Djokovic, he could face Rafael Nadal in the final.
The King of Clay is on the verge of drawing level with Roger Federer on twenty majors, while Djokovic is closing in with seventeen.
Ordinarily you might say that Tsitsipas isn’t quite ready to influence this epic race for the most Slams in the history tennis.
Before last night, most people would probably automatically assume that Novak Djokovic is still too strong to be taken down.
Indeed the incredible Serb is still probably favourite to win that semi-final.
But all kinds of injury drama during Novak’s extraordinary 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta have thrown the tournament wide open.
Djokovic could hardly move during the first set. His neck was taped and he kept trying to manipulate his left arm and his lower back.
As he lost the first set, Djokovic was barely sixty per cent of his normal self. His first-serve success rate was even worse at forty per cent.
We wondered whether he would have to retire at any moment. It seemed almost inevitable.
As Novak later explained, however, things gradually changed. He said: ‘I definitely didn’t feel great coming into the court today.
‘As the match progressed, I warmed up my body and the pain kind of faded away. It allowed me to feel better and play better.’
Before we knew it, Djokovic had transformed. A man who could hardly move one minute turned back into a world-beater the next.
Some might be tempted accuse him of having slightly exaggerated his early ailments. That would be unfair on Novak.
Athletes are like finely-tuned machines when it comes to their physical fitness. So anything that doesn’t feel right is very keenly felt.
Djokovic is used to doing so many superhuman things on court. What might seem like minor wear-and-tear to others, could severely hinder his natural game.
Novak doesn’t have an abundance of power. So he relies on flexibility, defence, rapid movement and technique.
All these cornerstones to his game were threatened by the discomfort he felt going into that quarter-final.
The question is this: what pain and stiffness will linger, heading into the big semi-final against Tsitsipas? And can the 22-year-old take advantage?
Stefanos was in irresistible form once he got going against Andrey Rublev.
Remember, the Russian had just beaten him in Hamburg. Rublev also started the stronger in Paris and led 5-3 in the opener.
That’s when Rublev seemed to tighten – and the best version of Tsitsipas appeared on stage.
‘I found answers and became flamboyant,’ Stefanos said later.
Flamboyant is one way to describe the devastating confidence and relaxation Stefanos exuded.
Tsitsipas has an extraordinary natural talent. He moved around the court so effortlessly for a big man.
That’s why we believe he could be such a huge star at Wimbledon 2021.
Against Rublev he suddenly found a different level and cruised through 7-5, 6-2, 6-3.
Tsitsipas will certainly feel fresher than Djokovic on Friday. Could an upset be on the cards?
If Tsitsipas beats Djokovic, there’s no reason why he can’t take down the great Nadal too.
We’ve mentioned elsewhere that Rafa isn’t moving quite as well as usual, despite his easy passage through to the semi-finals.
Maybe Nadal is at 85 per cent of his best, in terms of match fitness after his long lay-off during the summer.
The first man who has the chance to test Rafa’s sharpness is the in-form Diego Schwartzman.
And that semi-final definitely isn’t the foregone conclusion some people might think.
Even if Nadal wins through, he may have some of his energy sapped by the South American conqueror of Dominic Thiem.
How Roger Federer would love it if Tsitsipas can do him that favour.
Can Stefanos beat both Djokovic and Nadal to keep the Swiss genius clear at the top of the Grand Slam table?
It’s a tall order. It’s even unlikely. But Tsitsipas is certainly going to make things interesting at the business end of Roland Garros.
Meanwhile Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova are about to play what should be a fascinating women’s semi-final.
Kenin and her unplayable cross-court backhands looked typically impressive during her absorbing 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 win over Danielle Collins.
The one-sided denouement was particularly gruelling for the television commentator who tipped Collins after two sets. (We’ve all had those moments).
Kvitova looked even more imperious during her 6-3, 6-3 dismissal of Laura Siegemund.
We love Kvitova, and not just because she won Wimbledon twice.
She has touched us all with her tearful description of what Roland Garros means to her. It was the scene of her comeback after so much trauma.
Could Kvitova arrive at Wimbledon 2021 having picked up another Grand Slam title?
It’s possible. Kenin or Iga Swiatek might have something to say about that, though.