The first Australian Open men’s semifinal takes place later tonight Melbourne time (or in the wee hours of the morning depending where you are) with Rafael Nadal taking on the Greek upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas.
This was supposed to be the Nadal-Roger Federer semifinal, but you can thank Tsitsipas for taking care of that. Instead, we get Nadal against maybe the next Federer? I don’t know and we won’t know for years if that’s how it will pan out, but the young Tsitsipas is legitimately a player who will contend for many, many slams down to road.
Tsitsipas possesses a big game with big attributes all around. Big serve, big forehand, big backhand and something he has over some of his peers, a big frame.
Whereas an Alexander Zverev or Daniil Medvedev are slight or thin, Tsitsipas is thick and broad, and I think that’s going to really help him (same for Karen Khachanov).
As for tonight…
Rafael Nadal v Stefanos Tsitsipas
This is the third time these two have met in the last 10 months, Rafa has won all four sets beating Tsitsipas in the Barcelona final and the Canadian Open final. No surprise Nadal crushed him on clay in Spain, but Tsitsipas made a second set run in Toronto and I expect something similar tonight.
I do not expect a one-sided affair. Few probably do, though. (So maybe that’s what we’ll get?)
Like with Federer who Tsitsipas faced at Hopman cup, the kid knows what to expect from Rafa. He’s seen the pace off the ground, and lefty serve.
And with his improved offensive and defensive skills off the ground, Stefanos should be able to stay with Rafa longer in points. But I just don’t think long enough.
Federer’s forehand was a mess against Tsitsipas. Roberto Bautista Agut hits a much flatter shot, and was connecting, but the kid just had too much firepower, fight and moxy for RBA, and I don’t think RBA had the belief to close him out.
That said, I expect Nadal to do a lot better off the ground against Tsitsipas than either Federer or RBA. Nadal is going to use the Federer playbook and attack the 1-handed side of Tsitsipas, and make the kid move, make him feel the pressure.
I also think Rafa’s improved serve is a growing asset. Tsitsipas doesn’t have a great return game and that’s an area Rafa will take advantage. Big first serve, big forehand and Rafa’s immediately in control.
And the big thing tonight is you have to win three sets off Rafa and not just two. And I just think that’s too great an ask.
Rafa hasn’t lost a set all week, I feel like tonight that changes. Meanwhile, Tsitsipas has only played 4-set matches all tournament. That trend continues except he’s on the wrong end of the score.
The Pick: Nadal in 4
Even if Tsitsipas does not win tonight, I think he’ll get Rafa sometime this year. Tsitsipas already has wins over Djokovic and Federer and that’s no fluke, so he’ll get Rafa soon enough. His game is big enough, he likes to attack and play at the net, and he seems to be right in the head and has that special fighting quality, unlike a Zverev. So as he improves his serve (especially second serve) and movement, he’ll keep piling up big wins.
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