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Nadal vs Tsitsipas tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Ruthless Nadal to end Greek sensation’s Australian Open run?

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 23 Jan 2019
  • Rafael Nadal faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals of the Australian Open
  • Nadal vs Tsitsipas is live from the Australian Open on Thursday at 7.30pm local/8.30am GMT
Rafael Nadal (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Stefanos Tsitsipas has lit up this Australian Open with his run to the semifinals – but a ruthless Rafael Nadal awaits.

Rafael Nadal is into his sixth Australian Open semifinal without having dropped a set – can he do what Roger Federer couldn’t and end the sensational run of Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas?

Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas after the Canada Masters final  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Hard-court tennis has not been kind to the injury-prone Nadal of late. The 2009 Australian Open champion, who has had to retire twice in subsequent campaigns in Melbourne, won the US Open in 2017 but only played three hard-court events in 2018, retiring in two of them. At the third, the Canada Masters, he beat Tsitsipas in the final.

And yet this Australian Open, into which he came having not played since the US Open in September and having pulled out of his scheduled warm-up event in Brisbane with a thigh strain, has been one of his most dominant campaigns. Nadal has not only not dropped a set, he’s only had his serve broken twice. He’s spent the least time on court of any of those who made the quarterfinal stage, and per the ATP, he’s landed 70% of his first serves and won 80% of the points behind them. (Tsitsipas has also won 80% of points behind his first serve, but has only landed 63% of them.)

Not since 2008 has Nadal made the semifinals in Melbourne without dropping a set – and he then got wiped off the court by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so there may be something to be said for having faced a test in an earlier round to be battle-hardened by the climactic stages.

Frances Tiafoe, though, who was unable to do much of anything against Nadal in the quarterfinals, losing 3-6, 4-6, 2-6, didn’t find any lack of intensity coming from Nadal’s side of the court. 

‘I knew what he was going to bring to the table. I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity, I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken,’ Tiafoe said after losing his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in straight sets. 

‘But point in, point out, I've never seen someone so locked in.’

Nadal certainly was relentless against Tiafoe, breaking early and – with the exception of a dip early in the second set, when he was already up a break but had to save three break points – never really looking back from there. His forehand down the line in particular was an absolute bullet, fired with unnerving accuracy, and with so much consistent depth on the ball, Tiafoe constantly found himself scrambling behind the baseline, trying in vain to hit winners while Nadal pressed forward relentlessly.

Can Tsitsipas avoid suffering the same fate?

Nadal used the word ‘charismatic’ to describe the 20-year-old Greek, and that testifies to the kind of sensation Tsitsipas has been causing around Melbourne Park (and the world) this fortnight. The vehement, rapturous support of fans of Greek heritage – Melbourne allegedly has the largest Greek population of any city outside Athens – has been part of it, giving Tsitsipas’s matches a distinct flavor and at times epic scope; the young man himself, with his long hair, flying one-handed backhand and slightly offbeat personality, has been part of it; but mainly it was the way that he played and the fact that he beat Roger Federer which seems to have caught people’s imagination.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
Tsitsipas’s quarterfinal clash against Roberto Bautista Agut was less sensational, but I personally thought it was more impressive, seeing how Tsitsipas both avoided a letdown after his huge win over Federer and dug in to do the work necessary to come through a distinctly more gritty and less glamorous encounter. Bautista Agut did not play his best tennis and looked to be feeling the effects of long matches earlier in the tournament, against Andy Murray, John Millman and others, but Tsitsipas, who also wasn’t playing his best, really had to work hard to overcome his resistance nevertheless, coming through 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2).

This will be the third meeting between Nadal and Tsitsipas after they played twice in finals last year. Nadal won both, beating Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-1 on clay in Barcelona, and 6-2, 7-6(4) in a more competitive affair in the final of the Canada Masters in Toronto, where Tsitsipas came back from a break down in the second set and played some great tennis to push it to a tie-break.

‘I remember coming back to the locker room and promising to myself I'm going to do much better against him next time. It felt like I understood a bit better what he was doing on the court after that match, and especially on hard court,’ Tsitsipas said of their meeting in Toronto.

‘[…] I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.’

Nadal also isn’t banking on facing precisely the same opponent on Thursday. 

‘When you face these young players, they are in permanent improvement,’ Nadal said. 

‘He's with confidence. He won a lot of good matches.’

What I remember from that meeting in Toronto was how Tsitsipas, his forehand leaking errors during the one-sided first set and struggling to get into the net, adjusted his tactics in the second, increasingly figuring out how to hurt Nadal – although he still couldn’t drag the match to a third set. But if he learned from that match, so too did Nadal and his team – and Nadal is serving better this tournament than he was now.

Tsitsipas seems to be relishing taking on the big players right now and he doesn’t at all lack for self-belief, but he has never played so many best-of-five (not to mention highly emotional and stressful) maches in a row before, and I think his stamina and energy reserves might be questionable. I think Tsitsipas is going to find it very difficult to hold the centre of the court and will be worked relentlessly into his backhand corner, earning Nadal either an error or short ball and opening up the court for the forehand down the line, which Nadal has been striking so well. The only real question mark for me is the abdominal tape eagle-eyed observers spotted on Nadal last match. Unless injury intervenes, in that form or another, Nadal should reach the Australian Open final once more.

Nadal vs Tsitsipas Australian Open tennis is live from Melbourne on Thursday at 7.30pm local/8.30am GMT

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Nadal vs Tsitsipas tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Ruthless Nadal to end Greek sensation’s Australian Open run?

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