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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Aus Open: Beating Nadal in the fifth is no child’s play

The last time Nadal lost a five-setter after winning the first two sets was to Fabio Fognini at 2015 US Open.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt | New Delhi |
February 18, 2021 12:11:41 am
Rafael Nadal in action during his quarter final match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas (Source: Reuters)

Outplayed in the first two sets by Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas hit back to force the Australian Open quarterfinal into a decider. Tsitsipas won 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. The odds though remained in the illustrious opponent’s favour going into the fifth set.

The last time Nadal lost a five-setter after winning the first two sets was to Fabio Fognini at 2015 US Open. Before Wednesday, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was 22-11 in fifth sets; Tsitsipas 3-4, part of the crop of talented pretenders who have withered when taken into the deep end by counter-punching greats Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The 22-year-old experienced that in the French Open semi-final last year, when he similarly levelled the match at 2-2 before being blown away by Djokovic 6-1 in the decider.

Wednesday’s upset though wasn’t necessarily a case of Nadal dramatically dropping his level in the endgame. He sent down his fastest serve of the match (202kmph) in the fifth set. The first-serve percentage (70) and the number of aces (3) were higher than the first two sets. There were fewer unforced errors than his opponent (7 to 8).

Tsitsipas quite simply hit the fifth gear. The 6’4 Greek recorded 7 of his 17 aces, and his fastest serve of 206kmph, in the fifth set. The accuracy complemented the power with a first-serve percentage of 78, and Tsitsipas won 24 of those 29 points.

Dealing with the pressure of serving second in the fifth set, Tsitsipas went for broke. Trailing 2-3, he closed out the sixth game with four aces.

While the comeback from two sets down was fuelled by Tsitsipas edging the long rallies (9+ strokes) — in the fourth set he outperformed Nadal in the long rallies 13-4 — the fifth seed killed points quickly in the decider. Tsitsipas won 24 short (0-4) rallies to Nadal’s 15, hitting more winners (+5) and committing fewer errors (-4).

The winners came thick and fast. After struggling with the range for the duration of the match, Tsitsipas found his forehand with 7 winners, taking the stroke early and sending them both crosscourt and down the line. The forehand crosscourt slice was used to defend and put Nadal in his backhand corner.

Put under pressure and matched stroke-for-stroke, Nadal crumbled and conceded the decisive break with four unforced errors in the 11th game.

“In the 4th and 5th set he played at a very high level and I have made some mistakes in important moments,” Nadal summed up the match. “…today I am not feeling unlucky, I lost to one of the best players.”

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