03:23 AM GMT January 21, 2019
Reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas grew up idolising Roger Federer. The man with 99 tour-level titles, more than 300 weeks atop the ATP Rankings — that was the player the Greek strived to become like. Over the years, Tsitsipas has pored over Federer’s highlights on YouTube, both to admire his level and see how the Swiss’ opponents tried to attack him.
So in a way Tsitsipas’ first FedEx ATP Head2Head match against Federer, in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Rod Laver Arena, was surreal; beating Federer in four sets for the biggest win of his life, a dream come true.
“It was a very emotional moment. It was a beginning of something really big. I felt joy. I felt happiness. I felt a huge relief going out of my shoulders,” Tsitsipas said. “That moment is definitely something that I will never, ever, ever forget. This match point is going to stay, I'm pretty much sure, forever, for the rest of my life.”
Prior to this match in Melbourne, Federer had never earned more than nine break points in a match without converting at least one. But on Sunday evening, the Swiss missed out on all 12 of his opportunities.
“It was actually very mental, I would say. I could have cracked at any moment, but I didn't because I really wanted it bad. I showed it on the court,” Tsitsipas said. “Obviously and for sure that mental toughness helped a lot. It could have been a different match if I wouldn't stand that pressure.”
It’d be easy for Tsitsipas to get lost in the moment, trying to comprehend the magnitude of his victory. But Tsitsipas is being careful of taking his attention away from the task at hand.
“For sure it's a good win against Roger. I mean, we all know who Roger Federer is, what he has done in tennis. But I still have to keep my focus, keep my concentration on further goals that I want to achieve. That's a very good beginning. I need to stay humble,” Tsitsipas said. “This win is a good milestone, let's say good first step, as I said, to something bigger. I do feel like my game is pretty good at the moment. I feel confident. That's very important.”
Federer himself had plenty of praise for his #NextGenATP opponent, praising the work he has put in the past couple of years, pointing to wins over Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson as signs of his progress.
“That's what you need to do to get to the next level. He's doing that. It's really nice for him,” Federer said. “I see him definitely being high up in the game for a long time. That was a good night for him tonight.”
In the quarter-finals, Tsitsipas will play Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut, who is also into his maiden major quarter-final. Their first clash will perhaps be the biggest match of both of their lives.
“If I manage to keep the same levels of concentration like I did today, same patience, same mental toughness, willing to fight, I'm pretty sure it's going to go pretty well,” Tsitsipas said. “[I have] to stay humble and concentrated on the goals I've set this year. This match is very important to me. I'm going to try to fight hard again and give my best all out on the court.”
Tsitsipas is dreaming big in Australia. The 20-year-old has no intentions of leaving Melbourne without the trophy: the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
“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, yeah, to make myself happy and the people that are cheering for me happy… It just feels so nice to be playing on these courts. It's spectacular. I really want to stay here as long as possible. That's my goal.”
Many players would have cracked under the pressure of the moment on Sunday. If Tsitsipas lost the fourth-set tie-break, that could have spelled disaster. But the Greek stayed the course. Earlier in the week, he told ATPTour.com that he likes surprising people with what he can do. But no more. The Tsitsipas star was born on Sunday night.
“I just managed to close that match and stay strong, beat my idol,” Tsitsipas said. “My idol today became pretty much my rival.”