Djokodal LVII will not take place at this year’s Australian Open, what would have been a very hyped championship match.
The numbers alone are staggering. However, the recent Roland Garros Final, an embarrassing loss for the Serb (0 2 5), would have been the immediate backdrop, followed by the major championship tally battle royal, with Djokodal really the last two standing. The match would have been huge and hugely consequential on those particular numbers.
Per pre-match commentary, this would have been both an epic draw that continues to lift the sport, as well as a redundancy that plagues the sport (Mcshow). Novak, with his regained health, playing Nadal, with his regained health, would have been the favorite and likely would have put an AO 2019-like beatdown on the Spaniard, you know, for old times’ sake (and retribution for 2020 RG).
But Stefanos Tsitsipas prevented any of this from happening.
The story-line of the Tsitsipas vs Nadal QF is pretty clear. First and foremost, Bo5 is clearly the best format for these kinds of matches of consequence. Ever wonder what might have contributed mightily to the Nadal beatdown of Djokovic a few months ago on the red dirt of Paris? That SF where Tsitsipas went down 0-2, yet came roaring back to force a fifth and make Djokovic likely put too much into that effort surviving the run-away Greek locomotive before turning around and playing the clay GOAT?
But as for the Tsitsipas vs Nadal AO QF story-line? Tsitsipas finally was able to hold serve and started to play smarter tennis, which includes a little more margin on his offensive brand of tennis, holding-out for better, even if fewer, opportunities to hit the ball through the Spaniard, finish the point, continue to add pressure to the 34 year-old’s mental and physical well being.
That’s pretty much what this boiled down to, along with Nadal tightening-up, especially in that 3rd set TB. He botched two routine overheads, played a few more sloppy points and the Greek continued to play with less forgiveness, fewer errors. Indeed, tennis is a pretty simple game really, in terms of a winning strategy. Hold your serve, which allows you to take a few more chances on your opponent’s serve, and try hard to clean-up the stat sheet, especially that UE column.
Once Stefanos had a set in-hand, one could see Nadal start to fall further back on his heels as Tsitsipas grew in confidence, continued to serve well, pound Nadal’s BH, finish points with his FH, come to net with purpose and so on. Tsitsipas, like Thiem, is a younger bloke who can weather a five-set slugfest. That’s certainly a factor here. As much as we want to think of Nadal as a Bo5 beast, he’s not wanting to play that tune these days. He looked the worse for wear as this QF continued on into the night.
Although the 22 year-old staggered a step or two at the finish line, finally closing-out the Spaniard on his 3rd MP (giving some perhaps some recall of his loss at the 2020 USO to Coric despite holding 6 MPs), we had ourselves a justified candidate for this title. Breaking Nadal there at 5-5, the Greek, in the near empty arena, could crack his youthful smile in victory.
Let’s get to how tonight’s men’s second SF goes down.
People will lean Medvedev for obvious reasons. His 5-1 H2H with Tsitsipas is where many will start (there might be a pinch of bad blood, for what it’s worth). Really all of the matches have been tight. The one five setter they’ve played was at the 2018 USO where the Russian prevailed 64 63 46 63. Daniil was 5-0 against the Greek until the 2019 ATP Finals, where Tsitsipas got his only win against him in RR play 76(5) 64; of course, Stefanos was en route to winning that particular title, the same one that Medvedev won in a year later; interestingly enough, they both beat Thiem in their championship match, both after losing the first set to that perplexing Austrian!
Another reason people like Medvedev here is his maturity. He’s three years the Greek’s senior, but plays like he’s old and mature enough to be Stefanos’ dad. I’m persuaded by this factor most, if I were leaning the Russian in this match tonight. He is very business-like, like a Nadal. Sure we’ve seen Daniil actually get a little loose with his racquet and/or his emotions, but all things being equal, Medvedev probably won’t waste much time, movement or opportunities to secure some kind of advantage in this match. I could absolutely see him jump-out to a lead against Tsitsipas if the sometimes playful or dramatic Greek fucks around too much, or lets down his guard, as he did in the first two sets against Nadal in the QF.
This is how I would see a Federer vs Nadal or Federer vs Djokovic match. The Swiss for all of his brilliance can be seen soft-pedaling, playing too risky, not capitalizing, etc. That’s not how Nadal, Medvedev or Djokovic approach the battle. Their tennis is high stakes poker so they are seemingly red-lining each point; their success comes from a more cautious consistency, coupled with a good sense of clutch or bluff. Granted, no way should one put the Russian in the company of these Big 2 or 3, but this is done here simply to make a point (and Medvedev is continuing to find these bigger matches, so even a giant critic like myself has to concede a couple of points to reality).
I like Djokovic’s tennis, he of the more graceful two-handers, but Nadal’s and Medvedev’s brand can take a flying fuck.
The similarities between Nadal and Medvedev are not lost on me. Both are supreme retrievers of the ball, so the difficulty in finishing a point against them is for real. Both drift deep behind the BL on serve, which adds to their boisterous defensive style.
The biggest difference is in the flight of their ground stroke. Daniil’s is a flatter ball whereas Rafa plays his unmistakable push, his intensely spun air ball that keeps him in points at all costs and his opponent running. The Russian, for a 6′ 6″ guy, is able to manage well his own brand of stellar defensive tennis, so Tsitsipas probably doesn’t have too much over-thinking to do in preparation for this one. Same basic approach. Take care of your serve, first and foremost. And find opportunities to punish with your intimidating offense.
Tennis.com aka the Tennis Channel did their little review and like Medvedev. The problem with their assessment is they pretty much compare Tsitsipas to Rublev in reaching their professional opinion. A weak foundation, too much quarantine on that calculus, Tignor.
Since we’re talking here about a major SF, what of the format, the chance that this could go long? How does that affect this match-up? Like I said, Medvedev did beat Tsitsipas in their only Bo5 match. The only mention of the Bo5 format in that titillating match preview from Tignor is that he actually acknowledges how the Russian won his first five-setter against Krajinovic in this year’s Aussie, last week. I think he’s 1-6 in matches that have gone five sets. That’s a little bit of an issue if you ask me.
And sure Stefanos just played a five-setter, about 4 hours and 20 minutes in length. In addition, fitness might be somewhat of an issue because of Covid/quarantine, etc.
Be that as it may, if Tsitsipas is too tired, then chalk one up for the men’s tennis is a pile of shit argument.
But all things being equal, this is pretty simple, in terms of calling this match.
Like the Nadal QF, the longer this goes, the more we have to like the Greek. He’s a beast, a world-class athlete and one-handed puzzle that will become more and more difficult to solve for the Russian the longer this goes. If the Greek is serving big, he will most likely be able to come forward, start to settle-in, start to dictate, start to push reality on the Russian, which entails a potentially long match.
Medvedev in four is not a bad bet here, given his confidence and his recent winning prowess; his finish to 2020 (Paris Masters, ATP Finals), Russia’s success at the ATP Cup and now here in the Aussie SF, the guy is on a roll, to say the least.
But you know me at this point. I’ll stay with the one-hander. He’s getting good at controlling his emotions. He’s getting used to the brightest lights. The crowd will be energized and throw all kinds of juice into an emotional and physical war that is a major championship semi-final.
Go long or go home, Stefanos.
Best of luck to both.
Enjoy this huge fucking match, all you nutty tennis fans out there.