PARIS: Stefanos Tsitsipas went from way ahead to suddenly stuck in a five-set struggle against Alexander Zverev at the French Open on Friday before emerging to earn his first berth in a Grand Slam final.
The fifth-seeded Tsitsipas entered with an 0-3 record in major semi-finals and it seemed as if he might let this one slip away, too, until a late surge carried him to the 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory after more than 3½ hours at Court Philippe Chatrier.
On Sunday, Tsitsipas will face 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal or top-seeded Novak Djokovic for the championship on the red clay.
“All I can think of is my roots, a small place outside Athens where I dreamed to play on the big stage at the French Open,” said a tearful Tsitsipas on making his first final at the majors, secured on a fifth match point.
“It was nerve-wracking, so intense, I stayed alive. I went out there and fought. This win means a lot, it’s the most important one of my career so far.”
Tsitsipas took a 5-2 career lead over Zverev into the semi-final and he was the first to pounce with the only break of the opening set in the second game.
The rock-solid Greek didn’t give up a single break point although in an indication of the fine margins, Tsitsipas only hit one winner.
Zverev, bidding to become the first German man since Michael Stich in 1996 to reach the final in Paris, raced into a 3-0 lead in the second set.
However, Tsitsipas’ greater composure saw him rack up six consecutive games to move two sets ahead.
The Greek had come into the semi-final certainly sharper having seen off three seeded players to get this far. Zverev had needed five sets to beat his 152nd-ranked compatriot Oscar Otte in the first round and hadn’t faced a player inside the top 45 before Friday.
But Zverev carved a break in the third game of the third set and this time backed it up despite a lengthy, foul-mouthed rant at the umpire over a disputed line call.
The 24-year-old German, now fired up, broke in the opening game of the fourth set and levelled the semi-final in the 10th game on the back of a brutal 27-shot rally.
Tsitsipas, playing in his third consecutive semi-final at the majors, crucially saved three break points in the first game of the decider.
He made the most of the escape, breaking the German for 3-1 and quickly securing the advantage for 4-1.
In a 10-minute eighth game, Zverev saved four match points, the second of which with a drop shot, the third with an ace.
However, Tsitsipas held his nerve and claimed victory after over three and a half hours on court with his eighth ace of the match.
UNSEEDED KREJCIKOVA REACHES FINAL
On Thursday night, Czech Barbora Krejcikova saved a match point in a dramatic win over Maria Sakkari to reach the women’s final.
The unseeded Krejcikova fought back from the brink to outlast Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 after three hours and 18 minutes and set up a Saturday showdown against Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who also advanced to her first major final.
“I always wanted to play a match like this, a challenging match where we’re both playing so well. Even if I lost today, I’m very proud of myself. Fighting, in life, it’s the most important thing,” said Krejcikova.
Both players made a nervy start to their maiden Grand Slam semi-final, with 17th seed Sakkari the first to hold serve in the fourth game as she took a 3-1 lead.
But Krejcikova picked up the next four, pulling 5-3 ahead with a sublime lob that left her serving for the set.
The Czech was then broken to love as Sakkari rattled off eight points in a row to level at 5-5.
A routine hold from Krejcikova put the pressure back on Sakkari, who surrendered the set as her shot clipped the net and floated wide.
Sakkari regrouped and raced 4-0 ahead in the second.
The Greek fended off a spirited comeback from Krejcikova to force a decider, Sakkari breaking for a 2-1 edge and saving a break point in the next game to consolidate as the finish line crept ever closer.
Sakkari had match point at 5-3 but the resilient Krejcikova stayed alive with a sweeping backhand volley, and then broke back before moving 6-5 in front.
Krejcikova watched three match points of her own pass by at 7-6, Sakkari saving a pair with a crunching backhand winner and an ace.
Krejcikova held again with relative comfort and brought up another match point on Sakkari’s serve.
Then came the real drama. Sakkari hit a forehand near the baseline, the ball landing at Krejcikova’s feet.
The linesman thought so and called the shot long. A TV replay confirmed as much, and Krejcikova was so sure she raised her arms in triumph to celebrate.
Chair umpire Pierre Bacchi disagreed. He reversed the call, sparking a fresh round of debate about video replay and briefly delaying Krejcikova’s victory.
Tennis was spared an unjust result five points later, when she hit a backhand winner to close out the biggest victory of her career.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2021