Tsitsipas battles past Zverev to reach French Open final

Paris, Jun 11 (EFE).- Stefanos Tsitsipas achieved a career breakthrough Friday at the French Open, outlasting Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 to advance to his first Grand Slam final.

The 22-year-old Tsitsipas, the first Greek player – man or woman – to secure a berth in the championship singles match of any major tournament, is the youngest finalist at one of tennis’ four biggest events since Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open and the youngest finalist at Roland Garros since Rafael Nadal in 2008.

The world No. 5 had come up short twice before at the semifinal stage (2019 Australian Open and 2021 Australian Open), but he would not be denied on Friday.

Tsitsipas appeared headed for a straight-set victory after winning the opening set with a single service break and particularly after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to claim the last six games of the second set.

Employing depth, pace and heavy spin on both ground strokes and moving like a big cat along the baseline, the 1.93-meter (6-foot-4) Greek star showcased more clay-court tools in the early going than his big-hitting German opponent.

The sixth-ranked Zverev, meanwhile, was slightly less mobile moving side-to-side than Tsitsipas and was unable to dominate the rallies like he did in easy victories in his previous two rounds against Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Second-serve points (typically a good indicator of success in baseline rallies) told the story through two sets, with Tsitsipas having won a respectable 50 percent while the 24-year-old Zverev was a woeful five of 19 (26 percent).

The tenor of the match changed, however, over the next two sets.

While Tsitsipas continued to control his own service games for the most part, he stopped making any impression on the serve of the 1.98-meter Zverev, who won 76 percent of his overall service points and went 11 of 16 on second-serve points (69 percent) in the third and fourth sets.

With the match playing out more like a big-serving grass-court match than a typical clay-court battle filled with momentum swings and service breaks, sets three and four were decided by a handful of key points that mostly went the German’s way.

Zverev clinched the third set thanks to a lone service break in the third game, when Tsitsipas misplayed a volley at 30-30 with the German in a vulnerable position at net and then committed a forehand unforced error on break point.

A break in the opening game of the fourth set thanks to a careless Tsitsipas error also proved sufficient for Zverev, who didn’t create any more break points but also didn’t face any on his own serve.

No player had rallied from a two-set deficit to win a semifinal match at Roland Garros since Chile’s Luis Ayala pulled off the feat against Australia’s Ashley Cooper in 1958.

But Zverev appeared poised to do so when he created three break points against Tsitsipas’ serve in the first game of the fifth set.

The Greek star got out of that jam, however, thanks to some strong serving and an outstanding defensive play at 40-40 and then capitalized on a key opportunity three games later.

With Zverev serving down 1-2, Tsitsipas showed some more solid defense to create his first break point since the third set and then grabbed a 3-1 lead when the German netted a backhand.

The world No. 5 continued to apply the pressure and created four match points with Zverev serving down 2-5, although the German fended them all off with some strong play, including an ace and a drop shot winner.

Tsitsipas, who won an impressive 21 of his 24 service games throughout the contest, still had a service break lead though and clinched victory with another strong service game capped off by an ace on match point.

“All I can think of is my roots. I come from a really small place outside of Athens. My dream was to play here and I would never have thought I would achieve it,” Tsitsipas said in an on-court interview. “There were a lot of people cheering me on in my country and I’m very happy that Greece is part of the tennis community now. Maria (Sakkari, a 2021 French Open women’s singles semifinalist) and I have done a good job of elevating the sport and keeping Greek tennis alive.”

Tsitsipas will have his work cut out for him in Sunday’s final, when he will square off against either Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, an 18-time Grand Slam champion; or Spanish world No. 3 Rafael Nadal, winner of a record 13 Roland Garros titles and 20 major titles overall. EFE

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