07:25 PM GMT January 21, 2019
After Stefanos Tsitsipas shocked Roger Federer in Melbourne on Sunday evening, 2009 champion Rafael Nadal became the favourite to move through the bottom half of the Australian Open draw. The Spaniard will look to continue his pursuit of a second title at the event when he faces #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Tiafoe, who turned 21 on Sunday, when he upset 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov, is the youngest American to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park since former World No. 1 Andy Roddick in 2003. This time last year, Tiafoe had never reached a tour-level quarter-final. But he is eager to walk on Rod Laver Arena for the biggest match of his life against Nadal.
“I'm so excited to play Rafa. We're going to have some fun, going to have some long rallies,” Tiafoe said. “Playing arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all-time. Just have some fun out there.”
Nadal holds a 29-7 record in major quarter-finals, with six of his seven losses coming against Top 10 opponents. But the Spaniard is preparing to be at his very best, expecting a stern challenge from Tiafoe.
“He has everything: He's quick. He serves well. [He has a] very quick forehand. He's a very dynamic player, aggressive one. Of course, he's dangerous. He's in the quarter-finals. He won great matches during the whole event. [It’s] going to be a tough one,” Nadal said. “You cannot expect an easy match. I just can say from my side, I'm happy to be in that round. I played some good matches until that round, and now is the moment to keep [making] steps forward to... give myself chances to keep going.”
Tiafoe has waited for a moment like this his entire life. The spotlight will be on him as he tries to defeat a living legend. But rather than showing nerves, Tiafoe plans to bring the battle to Nadal. Smiling towards the end of his on-court interview after defeating Dimitrov, Tiafoe made that clear.
“He better get ready.”
In Tuesday’s other quarter-final, Tsitsipas will try to back up his upset of Federer against in-form Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut. While Tsitsipas showed what he is capable in the fourth round against the six-time champion, Bautista Agut is 9-0 on the season, with five wins against players who have reached the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings. This will be the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, and neither player has reached a Grand Slam semi-final before.
“Tsitsipas is a great player. He's playing at a top level,” Bautista Agut said. “He's one of the top players in the world. He will be one of the best, for sure. He's playing at a very high level.”
Tsitsipas does not plan on being content leaving Melbourne Park with the Federer victory and a quarter-final loss. The first Greek man to reach the last eight at a major wants to further improve his level and go all the way.
“That's why I'm here. That's why I'm playing, for the trophy, for the title,” Tsitsipas said. “I feel good. I really want it badly. I really want to proceed further in the tournament to make myself happy and the people that are cheering for me happy. I really like this atmosphere that's on the court, the whole dynamic of it… I really want to stay here as long as possible. That's my goal.”
Tsitsipas and Bautista Agut do have contrasting gamestyles, which should make for an interesting tactical match. Tsitsipas can employ plenty of variety off his forehand wing, and he uses a one-handed backhand. The Greek is also unafraid of the forecourt, coming to net 68 times against Federer and winning an impressive 71 per cent of those points.
Bautista Agut hits very deep, flat groundstrokes while managing to make few mistakes. The Spaniard tallied just 38 unforced errors to Marin Cilic’s 73 in their five-set thriller in the last round. The depth of Bautista Agut’s shots, as well as his consistency, can force players out of their comfort zone, as there aren’t many good opportunities for them to step into the court and play aggressively without incurring an excessive amount of risk.
“I do feel like my game is pretty good at the moment. I feel confident. That's very important. I'm really pumped and excited to be competing in the quarter-finals,” Tsitsipas said. “I'm really waiting for that moment.”