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Nadal beats a 2-set lead in Australia against Tsitsipas



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Nadal beats a 2-set lead in Australia against Tsitsipas


By taking the first two sets of a Grand Slam match, Rafael Nadal entered his Australian Open quarterfinal with a 223-1 record.

The mark is now 223-2, thanks to his own mistakes and some spirited play by Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal’s undoing started with a few uncharacteristically careless overheads and a framed backhand in a third-set tiebreaker, and his bid here for a men’s record 21st major championship eventually ended Wednesday with a loss of 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 to the younger, sharper Tsitsipas.

That was just a little bit of everything, no? In the tiebreak, I missed a few balls that I wasn’t supposed to miss if I wanted to win. And that’s it,” said Nadal, who, after gripping his cramping right hamstring, momentarily left the Spanish part of his post-match news conference.

“Nadal said, “I have to go back home and practise to get better.”

Nadal went ahead very effortlessly at his put-the-ball-where-he-wants-it best in the early going, winning 27 straight points on his serve in one stretch and extending his streak of consecutive sets won in major tournaments to 35, one short of the professional-era mark of Roger Federer.

In the history of a sport dating back to the late 1800s, Nadal and Federer are currently linked to 20 Grand Slam singles titles, more than any other individual.

But Tsitsipas never wavered and that shockingly bad Nadal tiebreaker, looking too far ahead, maybe? — helped to hand the third set over and launch the epic comeback.

“I started out very nervous, I’m not going to lie,” said the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas. “But after the third set, I do not know what happened. I was just like a little bird fluttering. It’s all been working for me. The feelings are indescribable at the very end.

As Tsitsipas played a “very, very high level of tennis” over the last two sets, in Nadal’s estimation, the 34-year-old Spaniard’s play dipped significantly.

In the first two sets combined, Nadal made a total of just 10 unforced errors, then 32 the rest of the way — 11 in the third, 14 in the fourth, seven in the fifth.

The only other chance in which Nadal went from a two-set lead to a Slam loss came in the U.S. in 2015. Fabio Fognini Open Against (who just so happened to have lost to Nadal in the fourth round at Melbourne Park this year).

But instead, instead of Nadal seeking to conquer Federer, Tsitsipas, a Greek 22-year-old with a dazzling game, will face the U.S. in 2019. Open semi-final runner-up Daniil Medvedev on Friday.

Tsitsipas and Medvedev did not win the Grand Slam tournament.

Novak Djokovic will meet 114th-ranked qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the other men’s semifinal, 17-time major champion and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who is making his Grand Slam debut.

The Thursday (Wednesday night EST) women’s semifinals are Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka, and Jennifer Brady vs. Karolina Muchova.

Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, but it’s the only major he’s not won at least twice, with 13 Roland Garros titles, four in the U.S. Wimbledon Open and Two.

“Things go well sometimes,” said Nadal, “and things get worse sometimes.”

He came into the first major this year with concerns about his back, citing that as his reason for pulling out of the Australian Open’s preceding ATP Cup team competition and claiming the issue prevented him from training properly for about three weeks.

However, after the loss to Tsitsipas, Nadal said that his back was not a concern.

In four matches, Nadal did not cede a set at Melbourne Park; he also took all 21 sets he played at the French Open last year, where he won his 20th Slam trophy (Williams has 23, Margaret Court 24).

After two knee operations, Federer hasn’t played in over a year.

With squawking seagulls at Rod Laver Arena offering a strange nighttime soundtrack, but no spectators, because during a local COVID-19 lockdown they were barred, and would not return until Thursday, Nadal always had an answer to everything Tsitsipas attempted at the outset.

Give the net a rush? An angled passing shot is coming up here. At the baseline, hang out? Good luck trying to snatch Nadal out of there.

It looked like when Nadal dominated Tsitsipas and allowed him to win just six games, it could be a replay of their 2019 semifinal in Australia.

But this time, after three full days off, Tsitsipas came in, because Matteo Berrettini, the man he was expected to face in the fourth round, No. 9, withdrew with an abdominal injury.

That may have led to Tsitsipas being fresher in the late going as they played past four hours, and a 12-year age gap. In the French Open semifinals in October, Tsitsipas, who has been pegged as a potential star for years, almost pulled this kind of shocker off against Djokovic, going from two sets to forcing a fifth.

Back then, Tsitsipas couldn’t close the contract.

Against Nadal, he did.

By breaking at love as Nadal flubbed a set of shots, Tsitsipas eventually pushed out front at 6-5 in the sixth, then served the victory by converting his third match point with a backhand winner.

“I am speechless. I don’t have words to explain what just happened on the court,’ said Tsitsipas. “To be able to fight at such a level and just be able to give it my all out on the court is an incredible feeling.”

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