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MELBOURNE, Australia – Rafael Nadal’s attempt at the 21st Grand Slam men’s individual record ended on Wednesday night when he lost to Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
Tsitsipas lost the first two sets, but returned to defeat Nadal, the second player in the world, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5, in a strenuous, four-on-one duel. time for the biggest Grand Slam victory of his career.
Nadal, from Spain, played the first three sets almost perfectly, not allowing a break in the serve or even a break point, and he seemed to have full control of the match. But on the third set tie, he missed two overheads and sent a backhand to give Tsitsipas the tiebreaker and a lifeline.
Then what had been a defeat turned into a street fight. Playing with fresh legs after winning his fourth round match in an easy win, Tsitsipas became increasingly petty in the serve, refusing to give Nadal a chance to seize the advantage and forcing him to make negligent mistakes while getting more tired.
Tsitsipas, who at 22 is 12 years younger than Nadal, seemed to gain energy and jump in his steps as the hot night progressed, hitting balls that were previously out of reach and forcing Nadal to hit extra kicks and battle to hold your serve in almost every game.
In the fifth set, Nadal and Tsitsipas exchanged service games, with Tsitsipas’ serve becoming increasingly untouchable – he served four consecutive aces to tie the set 3-3 – and Nadal struggling for almost all points to stay tied . Serving 5-5 in the fifth set, Nadal made two mistakes to lose the first two points of the game, then missed on the forehand to give Tsitsipas his chance to serve.
With only his friends and support staff in the stands because of an instant block in the middle of a small coronavirus outbreak, Tsitsipas dropped his racket when it was over, crossed his chest and looked up at the sky.
The final game was a microcosm of the game. An early advantage for Nadal, followed by Tsitsipas attacking back, Nadal battling two match points to give himself a chance to survive, before scoring a forehand volley and watching Tsitsipas backhand the line to close the match.
“Moments like this have not happened much in my career,” said Tsitsipas, who also won the ATP Tour finals in 2019 and took down Roger Federer on the same court two years ago. “The fact that I came back the way I came back, the way I fought against Rafa, was something else.”
For Nadal, the defeat prevented him from going ahead of Roger Federer, from Switzerland, in his duel for winning the largest number of Grand Slam championships.
Federer has been sidelined with a knee injury since the Australian Open last year and has lost the three Grand Slams since tennis returned in August, just before the United States Open. He plans to return to the competition in the coming weeks.
Nadal also missed the United States Open, but returned to the French Open weeks later and won to tie with Federer with 20 singles titles.
Nadal was not the favorite in this tournament, which won only once, in 2009, although he came close on other occasions, especially in 2012, when he lost in five sets to Novak Djokovic in a game that lasted a record of five hours, 53 minutes . The tournament is played on fast courts, which challenge Nadal much more than the slow red clay in Paris or the softer grass at Wimbledon, which causes less wear and tear on his body.
Nadal complained of low back pain early in the tournament, but said on Wednesday night that it was not a problem against Tsitsipas.
“Another story in my tennis career, another game I lost in Australia,” said Nadal, frustrated shortly after the defeat. “I have to go home and practice to improve. That’s it.”
Nadal’s defeat should make Djokovic’s attempt at the ninth Australian Open title much easier. Djokovic faces Aslan Karatsev, 114th in the world ranking, in this Thursday’s semifinal. If he wins, he will face Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev, from Russia, in the finals.
Nadal contracted his lower back muscles while training in Adelaide before this tournament. The injury prevented him from following his usual training routine for almost three weeks, but after his victory in the third round here over Britain’s Cameron Norrie, he said the problem was almost resolved. He dominated Italian Fabio Fognini in the fourth round and had not lost a set in the tournament before facing Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas had just one victory in seven attempts against Nadal in Wednesday night’s game. At first, he tried to win by finishing the points quickly and avoiding the long rallies that Nadal uses to wear down his opponents. But Nadal continued to shoot inches from the lines that Tsitsipas struggled to place his racket.
With Nadal getting tired, however, Tsitsipas stayed behind and chased something like rope-a-dope tennis, keeping the ball in play until Nadal made a mistake or gave Tsitsipas a chance to win. He finally broke Nadal in the ninth game of the fourth set and won the next, when Nadal hit the net to turn the match into a one-set battle.
It was only the third time that Nadal lost after winning the first two sets.
“There will be matches that you will lose like today against one of the best players in the world,” said Nadal. “It is something that happens.”
Tsitsipas now faces Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the semifinals. He said he woke up on Wednesday in a state of serenity, with the feeling that things would go their way.
“Really, nothing was going through my head,” he said when asked what he was thinking when he started to turn the match towards him. “I was in a kind of nirvana. Playing and not thinking. “
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