Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas added another thrilling chapter to his Australian Open odyssey on Tuesday, the 20-year-old felling Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6(2) to claim a maiden Grand Slam semi-final for the Mediterranean nation.
Having already floored Roger Federer to send shockwaves through the tournament, the 14th seed can create further tennis history for his country when he plays for a spot in the final against Rafa Nadal or Frances Tiafoe.
Under a blazing sun at Rod Laver Arena, the aggressive baseliner fought back from 4-2 down in the third set and was unflappable in the final tiebreak, closing out the match with a pair of booming serves past his Spanish opponent.
With a victory that triggered a chorus of singing from Greek fans in the terraces, Tsitsipas became the youngest semi-finalist at Melbourne Park since American Andy Roddick, also 20, at the 2003 tournament.
“Feels like a fairytale almost,” he said in on-court interview. “I’m living a dream, living what I worked so hard for. I feel emotional but not much.
“I told people before that Grand Slam semis was my goal. When I was answering that question I thought I was crazy. But no, it’s real. It happened.”
Having saved all 12 break points in his fourth-round victory over double defending champion Federer, the Greek’s composure was again key against Bautista Agut.
Tsitsipas was denied on a first match point at 6-5 in the fourth set but shrugged off the near-miss to dominate the tiebreak against the 22nd seed.
A backhand volley down the line put him two points from victory and he fired a serve into the corner to earn another four match points.
He only needed one of them to seal the match with another big serve, which he greeted by flopping onto the blue hardcourt, overwhelmed by the moment.
The man who conquered 20-times Grand Slam champion Federer had a rough start, however, bungling an overhead smash to be broken in the first game.
He broke back in the eighth, when Bautista Agut dealt poorly with a lob and upped the pressure at 6-5.
SHOT CLOCK ISSUES
Blasting a run-around forehand winner to bring up two set points, he converted the second when a harried Bautista Agut found the net.
Bautista Agut remained calm, and was soon leading 3-1 in the next, having sent a backhand return whistling past Tsitsipas to break him in the second game.
The Greek was docked a serve for falling foul of the clock for a second time but responded with a second serve ace and held to 3-2.
Bautista Agut ploughed on in his unflustered way and claimed the set with a fierce serve into the corner.
A silent operator for the entire match, he permitted himself a low cry of “Come on!” on the way to his chair.
There was no let-up from the Spaniard, who wound up his big forehand and hammered at the corners, breaking Tsitsipas in the fifth game of the third set with his 29th winner.
It appeared bleak for the Greek, but Bautista Agut opened the door by dropping serve in the eighth game with a pair of unforced errors and was soon defending set points just two games later.
He saved two of them but cracked on the third, as Tsitsipas scrambled forward to retrieve a cross-court drop-shot and scooped it down the line.
Bautista Agut dug in grimly, summoning the grit that pushed him through three five-set marathons in his previous matches.
He double-faulted to give Tsitsipas a match point at 6-5 but saved it with a fearless forehand down the line and repeated the feat to send the set into a tiebreaker.
There was little he could do, however, as Tsitsipas raised his game once more, showing a composure and ruthlessness that have him marked for success at the Grand Slams as he raced away to seal victory.
Tsitsipas aims higher after semi-final success
Having already achieved his 2019 goal of reaching a Grand Slam semi-final, Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas is thrilled that he can now set the bar even higher at the Australian Open.
Two days after upsetting Roger Federer to send shockwaves around Melbourne Park, the 20-year-old became his country’s first player to reach the last four at a major with a 7-5 4-6 6-4 7-6(2) triumph over Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday.
“That’s the first step. That’s from where you start, then you move on,” the aggressive baseliner told reporters of his mission accomplished.
“I’m happy that I reached my goal. But that’s like the starting point to go deeper. That’s like the minimum, I would call it.”
Prior to Melbourne Park, Tsitsipas was only one of a number of bright young prospects chipping away at the dominance of the old guard in men’s tennis.
The 14th seed has now emerged as a genuine contender, having shown the composure and ruthlessness required for success at the Grand Slams.
It has all happened so quick for the rangy, shaggy-haired Greek, whose head was spinning too much after the Federer upset to get a good night’s sleep.
“It was really tough. First night was tough to process,” he said. “I had a pain in my toe which kept me awake.
“In general, I felt a bit of pain in my body and tension… I was worried about my next match, if I’m going to be able to get some good sleep the day before.
“I knew that win against Federer was important, played a huge role in my image, like who I am.
“But I knew that the biggest challenge was today’s match, that I can prove myself once again.”
He did just that and more against 22nd seed Bautista Agut, who dumped an injured Andy Murray from the tournament and had prevailed through three five-set matches.
Tsitsipas rallied from 4-2 down in the third set and was masterful in the final tiebreak, wielding his huge serve to devastating effect.
An avid traveller and video blogger, who set up his own YouTube channel, Tsitsipas joked with fans at Rod Laver Arena: “If you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe.”
He was tickled to hear that his subscriber base had soared after Tuesday’s win.
“I think I’m going to be more careful what I’m going to post on my next video,” said Tsitsipas, who will meet second seed Rafa Nadal or another young gun in 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe for a place in the final.
While he is Greece’s sole Grand Slam semi-finalist, Greek-Cypriot Marco Baghdatis made a fairytale run to the 2006 Melbourne final won by Federer.
Tsitsipas had planned to play doubles with Baghdatis at this year’s tournament but found out he was in Cyprus instead.
“I will actually thank him later that he left to Cyprus,” he said. “I think it definitely helped than having to stay and play doubles. Waste of energy.”