03:03 PM GMT November 16, 2019
Stefanos Tsitsipas finished last year as the Next Gen ATP Finals Champion and is now one match away from concluding this year as the last man standing at the Nitto ATP Finals. The Greek produced an outstanding display on Saturday to dispatch six-time champion Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4 at The O2 in London.
“I remember myself being one of these kids here, watching the event and… I could never picture myself standing here, but it did happen,” Tsitsipas said. “Dreams do come true.”
The 21-year-old Greek joined Grigor Dimitrov (2017 champion) and David Goffin (2017 finalist) as the only players to reach the title match in their debut appearance at the season-ending championships. He’s one of eight players to advance out of round-robin action in their first attempt.
First-Time Success At ATP Finals
“There is so much for me to learn from all these players. Roger, as well,” Tsitsipas said. “I grew up watching Roger as a kid, watching him here at the Nitto ATP Finals, watching him at Wimbledon, playing [tour-level] finals, and wished I could step out on the court one day and face him. Today, I'm here, living the dream.”
Tsitsipas autographed the camera post-match by writing “Stranger Things,” but his outstanding serving has made his inspired run anything but odd. He saved 11 of 12 break points against Federer and leads the field this week in service games won (44/47, 94%)
He’ll face Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s championship match. Tsitsipas trails Thiem 2-4 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, but leads Zverev 4-1 and defeated the German on Wednesday in Group Andre Agassi.
The Greek improved to 2-2 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Federer, with all four matches taking place this year. Tsitsipas prevailed at the Australian Open and London, while Federer triumphed in Dubai and Basel.
"I thought that he played really well. He took the ball early. I know he does that. I thought I returned pretty good on the first serve… But for the most part, I wasn't quite getting into the rallies the way I wanted to,” Federer said. “I think I have to credit him for pushing me to not play at the level I was hoping to today.”
Their centre court clash offered little subtlety and was purely about first-strike tennis. Both men ran around their backhand and looked for opportunities to attack with their forehand. They also moved forward to finish off points whenever possible, although the Greek typically ended points immediately with his forehand approach.
It was clear from the outset that Federer had the sold-out crowd on his side. They erupted with cries of “Let’s go, Roger!” after he carved a slice backhand passing shot to earn a break point in the opening game, but Tsitsipas kept them from getting involved early by holding serve.
The second game of the match proved to be pivotal. Federer picked the correct moments to attack with his forehand and move forward, but was unable to finish off the points at net. He missed a pair of routine overheads to give Tsitsipas break point and the Greek pumped his fist when he converted with a down-the-line forehand winner.
“I think getting broken with missing two smashes in one game, that hasn’t [happened] in a long, long time or ever. So that was tough,” Federer said. “That’s not something you can train or practise for. [My] feet were not quite there yet, still not quite getting used to the high ones."
A pair of baseline errors from Tsitsipas at 4-2 perked up the Centre Court crowd as Federer reached triple break point. But just as he did on numerous occasion during Friday’s defeat against Rafael Nadal, the Greek found powerful first serves when he needed them to bail himself out of trouble.
Federer shifted his tactics as Tsitsipas served for the set at 5-3, opting for backhand-to-backhand exchanges in which he added extra topspin to his shots. The strategy worked as Federer either won the exchanges outright or created an opening to finish off points with his forehand. He earned another break point at 30/40, but Tsitsipas waved it off with a swinging forehand volley winner.
A titanic eight-deuce game ensued with plenty of flashy shotmaking from both players. Federer erased three of the first four set points Tsitsipas earned with clean baseline winners, but hit unforced errors on both of his break point chances.
As the game entered its eighth deuce, Federer had won nine of the 12 points in which he got the return into play. Perhaps sensing the pattern, Tsitsipas didn’t let the Swiss get involved in the last two points of the set. The 21-year-old stepped up to the baseline and hammered two big first serves to grab the early lead. Tsitsipas saved all six break points in the opening set.
“Sometimes in matches like this, you wonder how you overcome all these difficulties, all these break points down. It’s really a mental struggle, so I'm really proud that I managed to save so many break points today,” Tsitsipas said. “I was trying not to give an easy time to Roger. He was playing good and shout out to him as well. He did pretty well this week.”
In a nearly identical start to the opening set, a poor game from Federer at 1-1 in the second set saw him hit four errors early in the rallies and hand an early break to Tsitsipas. The Swiss once again reached 0/40 on Tsitsipas’ serve in the next game and couldn’t get over the line, but he refused to be discouraged.
The six-time champion earned his 10th break point of the match with a drop shot winner and roared in approval after a forehand error from Tsitsipas clinched his first break of the day. The capacity crowd matched the volume as they chanted his name in unison.
Another lengthy battle ensued at 2-2 as both players had opportunities to take the lead. But while Tsitsipas had largely struggled in longer rallies during the match, he stepped up as the game reached its third deuce. The Greek played defense before launching a backhand just inside the baseline to earn break point, then rifled a forehand winner to secure his third break of the day.
One final twist was on offer as Tsitsipas served for the match at 5-4. Federer earned another pair of break points and the crowd tried to will him on, but Tsitsipas was not to be denied. He erased both with aggressive play and closed out the match with his sixth ace, looking to his team in disbelief after wrapping up play in one hour and 36 minutes.
Did You Know?
In Federer's two defeats against Tsitsipas, the Swiss went just 1-for-24 on his break point opportunities.