The reigning Rogers Cup champ has been eliminated by the week’s biggest giant slayer.
With his third successive victory over a top-10 player this week, precocious 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece has bullied his way into Saturday’s semi-finals.
Tsitsipas is on a tear in Toronto. First the youngster upset world No. 8 Dominic Thiem. Next came the biggest win of his young career: a three-set thriller over 13-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 10 Novak Djokovic. On Friday, he orchestrated a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4 victory over No. 3 Alexander Zverev, the champ last year in Montreal, and another of the ATP Tour’s biggest rising stars.
“Achieving such things makes me feel nice,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m very proud of who I am. … I always thought it’s going to take more years for this to happen.”
Tsitsipas now earns a semi-final showdown with Wimbledon finalist and world No. 6 Kevin Anderson of South Africa. Saturday’s other semi-final will be contested by world No. 38 Karen Khachanov of Russia and the winner of Friday’s late-night match between top-seeded world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and seventh-ranked Marin Cilic, the tournament’s six seed.
Canadian tennis fans should keep an eye on Tsitsipas. The Greek youngster will likely be a rival of Toronto’s Denis Shapovalov in years to come, starting with the Next Gen Finals for the Tour’s best youngster under 21. The two have a 1-1 head-to-head record. His run in Toronto is similar to Shapovalov’s barnstorming in Montreal last year.
Asked if the Tour’s group of top Next Gen players are friends, Tsitsipas answered: “We’re pretty competitive.”
There was overwhelming support during the match for the young Greek at York University’s Aviva Centre. He said he had dinner in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood the night before, where the Taste of the Danforth festival was set to take place this weekend.
“They were amazing today. I saw many Greek flags around the court, and they were cheering for me in Greek. It felt like I was playing at home,” Tsitsipas said. “It felt like I was playing in Athens. Hopefully they’ll make an ATP event one day there. But it felt so nice.”
Zverev dominated for the first hour and was one game away from the win when Tsitsipas stubbornly tugged it away in perhaps the most dramatic match in Toronto this week. The 21-year-old German didn’t admire the comeback or the tennis from either player on Friday.
“I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels,” said Zverev after the match, lamenting he hadn’t ended it swiftly after winning the first set 6-3 and leading the second 5-3. “I always say, when the opponent plays better. I’m probably one of the most honest guys on tour. Today was a pathetic match. I don’t even think he played well.”
The match, on a hot Toronto afternoon, lasted two and a half hours and saw countless wild momentum swings. Zverev was in the midst of a busy stretch, having won a title last week in Washington, and had easily beat Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4 in the semi-finals there.
“I played more clever this time,” Tsitsipas said. “I kind of fooled him when I was on the court and did some things that he didn’t expect me to do.”
The 6-foot-4 Greek with the long curly hair, currently ranked No. 27 and about to celebrate his 20th birthday on Sunday, broke Zverev and took a 2-0 lead in the first set. But Zverev broke back and then easily took the set 6-3.
Early in the second set, Tsitsipas was getting pushed around the court in long rallies and making young blunders – double faults, balls hit far wide, one flubbed high in the air. But down 5-3, the teen dug in and refused to go away.
With a new burst of energy, Tsitsipas strung together a few big rallies to break Zverev and stay alive. Then the brazen Greek held and broke the German again to force a tiebreak that would go on for 19 long minutes.
The two young guns had long, varied rallies, and Tsitsipas eventually seized it 13-11, although admitting the level of tennis on the day was “not the highest.”
In the third set, Tsitsipas was escapable again, saving eight of the nine break points he faced (9 of 14 in the match). The game ended with a Zverev double-fault – his sixth of the match (Tsitsipas had five).
Tsitsipas has yet to claim his first ATP title. He was playing mostly ATP Challengers until one year ago. Similar to Shapovalov’s ascent, Tsitsipas has jumped from No. 168 last August to a career-high ranking of 27.
“I feel proud that I’m showing my best out on the court on such big stages,” Tsitsipas said. “And that I can make tennis in Greece the thing.”