11:14 AM GMT October 04, 2018
#NextGenATP stars Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur competed in their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting on Thursday. And while it almost certainly won’t be their last clash, Tsitsipas came out on top 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018.
It seemed like deja vu, as De Minaur’s back was against the wall in his first-round match against Gilles Simon, too. In that encounter, the Aussie saved four match points in the second set before carrying the momentum to a victory. Against Tsitsipas, he fought off two match points in the second set to force a decider. But this time, the Greek was up for the challenge.
“Tennis is such a weird sport sometimes. You can win a match in the third set and it was a matter of one point today. If I would have won one more point — and I didn’t have just one opportunity to do that, I had a couple of them— I could have won that match 6-3, 6-2,” Tsitsipas said. “But it turned out to be a three-setter, 6-1 in the third, just to show how much a few points could make a huge difference.”
The 20-year-old might have arrived in Japan on a three-match losing streak. But Tsitsipas has enjoyed a tremendous breakthrough season, climbing to a career-best No. 15 in the ATP Rankings. So it was no surprise to see him steady the ship and break serve three times in the final set, winning 60 per cent of return points in the third.
“I knew that I was very close in his service games in that match. Almost every single service game of his was at 30/30 and was very tight every single time. So I just kept believing, kept fighting to get to that score and I didn’t make unforced errors in the third set on his service games, kept solid from the baseline and I was just patient,” Tsitsipas said. “I just made him play the crazy shots and he missed those shots, so that’s how I broke him so many times. I was just patient and trying to look for my opportunities with a short ball and that’s how I won the third set.”