Australian Open 2021: Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal in QF

Karolina Muchova's only other victory over a top-five was against No 3 Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in 2019.

The Associated Press February 17, 2021 08:19:11 IST
Australian Open 2021: Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal in QF

Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas reacts after defeating Rafael Nadal in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open. AP

Melbourne: For the 225th time in his illustrious career, Rafael Nadal grabbed a two-set lead in a Grand Slam match. For only the second time, he blew that big edge and lost.

A couple of uncharacteristically sloppy overheads and a framed backhand in a third-set tiebreaker began Nadal’s undoing, and his bid for a men’s-record 21st major championship eventually ended in the Australian Open quarterfinals Wednesday with 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

At his put-the-ball-where-he-wants-it best in the early going, Nadal went ahead rather easily, winning 27 consecutive points on his serve in one stretch and running his streak of consecutive sets won at major tournaments to 35, one shy of Roger Federer’s record for the professional era.

Nadal and Federer are currently tied at 20 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other man in the history of tennis.

But Tsitsipas never wavered and that surprisingly poor tiebreaker by the 34-year-old Nadal – thinking too far ahead, perhaps? – helped hand over the third set and begin the epic comeback.

The only other occasion in which Nadal went from a two-set edge to a defeat in a Slam came at the 2015 US Open against Fabio Fognini (who lost to Nadal in the fourth round at Melbourne Park this year).

So now, instead of Nadal attempting to continue his pursuit of Federer, it will be Tsitsipas – a 22-year-old from Greece with a flashy game – who will meet 2019 U.S. Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals Friday.

Neither Tsitsipas nor Medvedev has won a Grand Slam tournament.

In the other men’s semifinal, 17-time major champion and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic will face 114th-ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who is making his Grand Slam debut.

Nadal came into this year’s first major with doubts about his back, citing that as his reason for pulling out of the ATP Cup team competition that preceded the Australian Open and saying the problem prevented him from practicing properly for about three weeks.

But he hadn’t ceded a set at Melbourne Park through four matches; he won all 21 sets he played at last year’s French Open, where he picked up his 20th Slam trophy to pull even with Federer (Williams has 23, Margaret Court 24).

Federer hasn’t competed in more than a year after two knee operations.

With squawking seagulls providing an odd nighttime soundtrack at Rod Laver Arena — but no spectators, because they've been banned during a local COVID-19 lockdown, and won't return until Thursday — Nadal always had an answer for anything Tsitsipas tried at the outset.

Rush the net? Here comes an angled passing shot. Hang out at the baseline? Good luck trying to outslug Nadal from there.

It looked like it could be a repeat of their 2019 semifinal in Australia, when Nadal overwhelmed Tsitsipas and allowed him to win just six games.

But this time, Tsitsipas came in after three full days off, because the man he was supposed to face in the fourth round, No. 9 Matteo Berrettini, withdrew with an abdominal injury.

That — and a 12-year age difference — might have contributed to Tsitsipas’ being fresher in the late going as they played beyond four hours. Tsitsipas, who's been pegged as a future star for years, nearly pulled off this sort of shocker against Djokovic in the French Open semifinals in October, going from two sets down to forcing a fifth.

Tsitsipas couldn't seal the deal back then.

He did against Nadal.

Tsitsipas moved out front at 6-5 in the fifth by breaking at love as Nadal flubbed a series of shots, then served out the victory by converting his third match point with a backhand winner.

Medvedev overcomes compatriot Rublev's challenge 

Daniil Medvedev will take a 19-match winning streak into the semi-finals after beating fellow Russian Andrey Rublev 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.

The pair were teammates when Russia won the ATP Cup team event on the eve of the Australian Open. They were on opposite sides of the net on Wednesday, and Medvedev was dominant.

The No 4-seeded Medvedev hasn’t dropped a set to No 7-seeded Rublev in four tour-level matches. That includes their meeting in the US Open quarter-finals last year.

He called for the trainer after the match to massage his upper legs as he sat in a courtside chair before a TV interview.

“First time. I think I never saw it also,” he said in the on-court interview. “I went to the bench, last game of the match. I started cramping. I knew he was cramping also. At the end, I locked completely ... three last points when I was getting ready for the serve.”

Medvedev is into the semi-finals of a major for the third time. He will next play either 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal or No 5-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.

There’s two Russian men in the semi-finals. No 114-ranked Aslan Karatsev will play top-ranked Novak Djokovic for a spot in the final.

Brady reaches second straight Grand Slam semis

Jennifer Brady has reached her second Grand Slam semi-final in a row by beating fellow American and good friend Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 at the Australian Open.

Brady’s opponent on Thursday will be Karolina Muchova. The No 25 seed rallied past No 1 Ashleigh Barty. The United States will have a semi-finalist in the women’s draw at Melbourne for the 11th year in a row.

The No 22-seeded Brady struggled at times and gave her racket an angry toss midway through the second set. The unseeded Pegula, who advanced beyond the third round at a major for the first time, appeared to tire down the stretch.

Brady is a former UCLA star. She reached her first major semifinal at the US Open in September.

Australian Open 2021 Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal in QF

Karolina Muchova has reached her first Grand Slam semi-final. AP

Muchova stuns Barty

Top-ranked Barty lost 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 to Muchova in the quarter-finals.

Muchova earned her first semifinal berth in a Grand Slam, and her comeback win ended Barty’s bid to become the first Australian woman to win the title in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Muchova played poorly at the start of her second major quarter-final, and Barty raced to a 5-0 lead while losing only six points. After nine games, Muchova had one winner and 18 unforced errors.

Early in the second set, Muchova took an injury timeout that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Medical personnel took her pulse and temperature before she left the court, and when the Czech returned, she played much better.

Comebacks have been a staple in the tournament for Muchova, who rallied in earlier matches to win sets after trailing 5-0 and 4-0.

Against Barty, she began moving into the court to hit her groundstrokes earlier. Barty, pushed behind the baseline, became indecisive and erratic.

During one stretch Muchova won eight of nine games. Barty finished with 37 unforced errors and lost serve four times in the final two sets.

Muchova's only other victory over a top-five was against No 3 Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in 2019.

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