Preview: Sinner Faces Tsitsipas In Bid For First Slam SF

  • Posted: Jan 25, 2022

A former junior national skiing champion, Jannik Sinner has yet to carve into the fresh powder of a Grand Slam semi-final. He’s the only man in Wednesday’s quarter-final lineup yet to make a run to the final four, with Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Alassime all coming closer to the summit, and Medvedev reaching the peak as the 2021 US Open champion.

Sinner, 20, is also the youngest of the quartet—though he’s a long way from the bunny slopes as a Top 10 player and five-time champ on the ATP Tour.

The Italian prefers tennis to skiing because the racquet sport allows an opportunity to play through mistakes, while skiing slip-up spells the end of the race. In his fourth-round win over Australian No. 1 and home favourite Alex de Minaur, Sinner made 30 unforced errors. But after a slow start out of the gates, his attack began to gather speed. He finished with 35 winners in a 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-4 victory.

“I tried to stay composed with myself, and today I have to say I raised the level, especially in the second and third set,” Sinner said following his Rod Laver Arena debut. “In the beginning, there was a little bit of tension on both sides, which is normal. I was expecting a long match.”

Tennis also allows the opportunity to recover from lost sets, though Sinner has only had to do so once this fortnight, when he dropped the second set of a third-round win over Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel. Only Gael Monfils, who was a perfect 12-for-12, had a better set record on the way to the quarters.

In World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, Sinner will meet his first Top 30 opponent of the new year. But he’s no stranger to the game’s elite, having made his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals in November, where he replaced Matteo Berrettini midway through round-robin play as an alternate in Turin. In replacing his countryman, Sinner became the youngest man to compete at the Finals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2000.

In comparing the two Italians, Tsitsipas gave a glowing review of his quarter-final opponent: “Jannik, I would consider the more talented player from the baseline, that looks like he’s very relaxed when he’s playing. Doesn’t show much tension when he’s out there; pretty cold-blooded in comparison with Matteo, who looks a little bit more emotional.”

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The Greek enters Wednesday’s meeting off a comeback, five-set win over American Taylor Fritz in the fourth round. A two-time semi-finalist in Melbourne (2019, 2021), Tsitsipas has been sharp in a return from an elbow injury that saw him follow Berrettini out of the Nitto ATP Finals. But he looked out of sorts for stretches before a mighty finish against Fritz.

Tsitsipas blamed his struggles on passive play: “There were certain moments where I got defensive and wasn’t going for my shot too much, and I kept talking to myself and kept saying, ‘Hit the ball, go for it.’

“That eventually was engraved in my mind. That voice became a reality in the fifth set.”

All things considered, he’s happy with his game and confident in his ability to challenge for his first major title—seven months after falling a set short against Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros final.

“I would predict that I’m headed towards the right direction and things look good for me so far,” he assessed. “With the right mindset and with the right attitude and with the right development throughout the tournament, my chances are pretty good.”

Tsitsipas holds a 2-1 ATPHead2Head advantage over Sinner, with all three meetings coming on clay courts during the European spring swing.

Wednesday’s second match will see Medvedev and Auger-Aliassime square off in a rematch of their 2021 US Open semi-final, a straight-set win for the Russian. Both men enter behind four-set wins, but the pair exited the fourth round with contrasting views on their victories.

“I’m not really happy about my, let’s call it, mentality today,” Medvedev said following a 6-2, 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5 win over American serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy. Over the course of the match, a frustrated Medvedev made several audible comments about his opponent’s luck, as Cressy saved a bevy of break points and struck line-clipping second serves.

“I was a little bit harsh with Maxime, who played a really good match,” he continued. “At the same time, I’m not the only player to do it, to try to get into my opponent’s head.”

Auger-Aliassime was a 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-2, 7-6(4) winner over Marin Cilic. The Canadian, who was down two-sets-to-one in the opening round against Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, is rounding into form as he seeks a second consecutive Slam semi-final.

“Knowing in the back of my mind that I have the stamina, the mentality to last in matches and tournaments, of course it helps me to know that I can go deep in these types of tournaments,” he said of his Melbourne run.

Medvedev holds a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against the 21-year-old, with the most recent meeting come in the semi-finals of the ATP Cup. The Russian triumphed in Sydney, 6-4, 6-0, but Team Canada went on to win the competition.

Going into what will be their third hard-court match in five months, Auger-Aliassime is uniquely prepared for one of the ultimate tests in the sport—facing Medvedev on his preferred surface.

“The reality is he’s the best player, almost, in the world now,” the Canadian said, leaning into his underdog status. I need to, you know, play a great match. I need to be able to give a great effort both mentally and physically to go through.”

After Wednesday’s action, the remaining men will enjoy a day off before both semi-finals take place on Friday.

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