November 18, 2020
Stefanos Tsitsipas escaped defeat to Andrey Rublev by the skin of his teeth at the ATP Tour Finals in London.
But you wouldn’t necessarily want to be Tsitsipas when he faces Rafael Nadal on Thursday.
Rublev double-faulted on match point and let the Greek off the hook on Tuesday night.
The Russian almost sank to his knees with the disappointment – and never fully recovered.
Credit to the reigning champion, though. He showed enough determination to turn it round and keep his own hopes alive with a dramatic 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) victory.
These ATP finals are really serving to whet the appetite for Wimbledon 2021. There are so many great players to enjoy.
Now Tsitsipas must beat Nadal in order to progress to the semi-finals.
The problem for Stefanos is that Rafa is in great form and also desperate to win through.
Even though Nadal lost to Thiem by virtue of two tie-breaks earlier on Tuesday, his level is currently much higher than his next opponent’s.
Thiem and Nadal fought out a sensational battle, worthy of the final itself. Rafa wants more action and should earn it.
Of course, tennis is wonderfully unpredictable and Tsitsipas might suddenly produce something very special to turn the tables on Rafa too.
But it would take a brave man to bet against Nadal in that decider, given what we have seen already.
Stefanos is young and confident and that’s the way he has to be. But he is lucky his title hopes are still alive.
He looked in control against Rublev but lost his serve right at the end of the second set to surrender his lead.
The statuesque Mediterranean star then looked down and out in the tie-break too, before Rublev fluffed his big chance.
Tsitsipas overlooked the patchy nature of his performance in his post-match analysis.
He said: ‘We produced some incredible tennis and, in the end, putting in all that effort and fight paid off. I produced some really good tennis to help me get the win.’
Stefanos is a positive thinker and sees overall improvement in his approach to big-match tennis this year.
He reflected: ‘I’m gaining experience. Playing these great players means I’m learning. The more sacrifices I make, the more they will pay off.’
True enough. But the group decider against Nadal might involve more sacrifice than Tsitsipas really wants to endure.
Still, he will undoubtedly learn from that experience too.
And there is no doubt that when Tsitsipas reaches Wimbledon 2021 in a few months time, he will be capable of going deep into the second week.
As for Thiem, the challenge is to maintain the almost superhuman level that saw him take down Nadal.
Is that even possible? We shall soon see.