Lightning did not strike twice in Melbourne. After conquering defending champion Roger Federer, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas could not see off two greats within a week as he was comfortably beaten by a superb Rafael Nadal, who will now compete in his fifth Australian Open final.
Tsitsipas beat Federer in four sets in the fourth round Sunday and promised to “do something good” against Nadal in a highly-anticipated semifinal, but the Spaniard was too powerful for the Greek, giving him little opportunity to become only the third man to beat both Federer and Nadal at a major.
The semifinal was as comfortable for Nadal as the 6-2 6-4 6-0 scoreline suggests. The 17-time grand slam champion served brilliantly — he has yet to drop a set in this tournament — to progress to a 25th grand slam final of a remarkable career, five short of Federer’s all-time record.
“It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely,” a shocked Tsitsipas told reporters after the match.
On current form, Nadal will prove to be a formidable foe in the final for either Novak Djokovic or Lucas Pouille, who will play each other Friday in the other men’s semifinal.
Asked by on-court interviewer John McEnroe whether he could play any better, a smiling Nadal replied: “Hopefully, yes.”
The 32-year-old later described his display as “solid” and “aggressive,” telling reporters: “Probably the backhand was better than the rest of the days. That’s important for me, too, because the forehand was working fantastic during the whole week, week and a half, but the backhand was improving during the tournament.
“In general terms of course I have to be very happy about the way that I played.”
Much was expected of Tsitsipas, the first Greek player to reach a major semifinal and the youngest man to do so at the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2003, aged 20 years and 149 days. His stunning display against Federer, the two-time defending champion, had raised expectations.
But Nadal was playing at another level, performing at a standard not even the Spaniard has previously attained in Melbourne — he lost only 12 points on serve in the match and volleyed beautifully. Tsitsipas had no hope and folded in one hour and 46 minutes.
Nadal, aiming to become the first man in the open era to win each of the four grand slam titles twice, took the first set in 31 minutes, breaking in the third and seventh games, and losing just three points on serve.
The second set was a competitive, high-quality encounter until Nadal pounced in the ninth game, breaking the 14th seed and serving out to love.
By the third set, Tsitsipas’ resistance was all but broken as Nadal wrapped up his victory by winning eight games on the trot.
The final indignity for the Greek was when Nadal successfully defended Tsitsipas’ first break point of the match in what happened to be the contest’s last game.
Tsitsipas told reporters the match felt “weird” and that Nadal had a talent for making opponents play badly.
“I really can’t think of something positive on that match,” he said.
“Probably the second set, which was the one that I got closer to. The rest, it kind of felt like in a way it wasn’t tennis so much like the other matches that I played. It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely.
“He gives you no rhythm. He plays just a different game style than the rest of the players. He has this, I don’t know, talent that no other player has. I’ve never seen a player have this. He makes you play bad. I would call that a talent.”
Despite being outplayed and losing to Nadal for the third time in his career, Tsitsipas has the potential to become a multiple grand slam champion, according to the Spaniard.
“Good serve, good shots from the baseline. He has everything to become a multi grand slam champion,” he said when asked about the Greek’s potential.
“When at that age he’s in the semifinals that says a lot of good things about him.”
For Nadal, the focus switches to Sunday’s final where he will bid to win the title for a second time – 10 years on since his first in Melbourne.
A second Australian Open crown would take him to within two of Federer’s record 20 major titles and complete another brilliant comeback for a player who was beset by injuries in 2018 – retiring in the quarterfinals in Melbourne because of a leg injury and retiring hurt at the US Open semifinals, too, with an abdominal muscle problem.
Having undergone surgery on his right ankle in November, the world No.2 even had problems at the beginning of this season, pulling out of a tournament in Brisbane with a thigh strain, but the time away seems to have allowed him to refine his game and, on Thursday’s showing at least, he is better than ever on hard courts.