January 18, 2019
Roger Federer will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in a mouthwatering clash at the Australian Open.
Will the new prince of tennis have what it takes to defeat the old master?
Meanwhile another of the world’s most followed players, Maria Sharapova, is back in the big-time after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in three sets
Not only was the Dane the reigning Aussie Open champion. But she had also been Sharapova’s arch-critic when she was allowed back from her doping ban two years ago.
So although she wouldn’t say as much, Maria’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory must have been extra satisfying. ‘I just like winning,’ she said diplomatically.
Sharapova plays Aussie favourite Ash Barty next – and won’t have it all her own way.
Rafael Nadal will take on Tomas Berdych after seeing off Aussie youngster Alex de Minaur 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
The very last game was the highlight, as De Minaur resisted one match point after another in a series of stunning rallies.
Nadal said later: ‘He’s a big fighter and he is fast. The match points he saved were unbelievable. I congratulated Alex after the match and I think he has a great future.
‘I predict a very difficult match for me against Tomas, I will have to be at my best.’
But it is Federer v Tsitsipas that is really capturing the imagination of the tennis world.
The Greek superstar beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.
At one stage, when Tsitsipas felt the match was slipping away, he launched a volley of abuse towards his own team and took a code violation for an audible obscenity.
‘It was heat of the moment. I said some really bad things and I regret saying them,’ admitted Stefanos apologetically
But you can also tell that Tsitsipas fancies his chances of beating Federer.
And if he does, that would reverse the 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4) result in Federer’s favour at the Hopman Cup.
Tsitsipas reckons he was a little too star-struck while playing his hero for the first time. He won’t make the same mistake.
‘For players to beat Federer, they have to believe in themselves. I feel great, I can tell you that.’
Federer almost always feels like he has home advantage, wherever he plays. That’s how much fans love him the world over.
But Tsitsipas won’t worry about that when they play their keenly-anticipated match in Melbourne. Not after the support he received last time out.
He explained: ‘It’s good to have such support and exciting to have an atmosphere like this. I feel like I’m playing at home. I never had so many Greek – and Aussie – people support me.’
Federer, however, oozed typical confidence when asked about the challenge of playing Tsitsipas, after Roger had eased past Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.
‘I’m happy I played against him in the Hopman Cup. I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high-quality tennis.
‘I’m happy for Stefanos that he is playing so well and I’m looking forward to the match-up with him. I think it’s going to be a good one.’