Melbourne: Stefanos Tsitsipas took inspiration from the watching Rod Laver to stay calm in the face of an onslaught on Sunday and battle into a third consecutive Australian Open quarter-final.
The Greek third seed extended his win streak this year to eight matches with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 triumph over Italian 15th seed Jannik Sinner on Rod Laver Arena as the clock ticked over four hours.
Victory set up a clash against surprise package Jiri Lehecka for a place in the semis after the 21-year-old stunned sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/3).
Salute from the stands
That upset put the Czech into the last eight at a Grand Slam for the first time after being knocked out in the first round at all four majors last year.
“I just stayed really calm, just like Mr Rod Laver used to do in his day,” said Tsitsipas as the crowd roared their approval and Australian legend Laver saluted the Greek player from the stands.
“It was a long match, I felt like I spent an entire century on this court playing tennis.
“What a great night. That was superb, ‘a ripper’ as they say here. I’m really excited to be sharing moments like this on the court, especially in Australia.
“I’m trying to do my best out here, it’s not easy. I had an unbelievable opponent on the other side of the court today,” added Tsitsipas, the highest remaining men’s seed.
Tsitsipas, who lost in the 2022 semi-finals to eventual runner-up Daniil Medvedev, is playing for a double prize — not only a maiden major title but also the No 1 ranking.
That will be his if he lifts the trophy in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic, who he cannot meet before the final, can also become the world’s top-ranked player should he be crowned for a 10th time in Melbourne.
Tsitsipas led Sinner 4-1 in their head-to-heads leading into the match, including victory in the Melbourne quarter-finals last year, but it proved to be a tough test for the Greek.
He stated his intent by breaking Sinner in the first game thanks to a baseline error from the Italian.
Tsitsipas then saved four break points in the next game to keep the advantage and went on to seal the first set.
It went with serve in the second until the Greek pounced for 5-4 with a sizzling cross-court forehand then served it out in 46 minutes to take control.
But Sinner came storming back, with Tsitsipas saving six break points before finally succumbing to fall 3-1 behind and lose the set.
Sinner was fired up and constantly threatening, converting his second break point when Tsitsipas sent a forehand wide to move 2-1 clear in the fourth set.
The Greek star had no answers and it went to a fifth set.
Sinner saved three break points in the fourth game, but when Tsitsipas worked three more on his opponent’s next service game, he made no mistake.
The third seed moved 4-2 clear and ultimately got over the line for the win.
Lehecka now stands in his way after the Czech defeated a top-10 player for the first time.
“Honestly, it feels amazing,” said Lehecka, who has climbed 70 places in the rankings over the past year to 71.
“After losing in the first round last year, if someone had told me before the tournament that I would be playing like this, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Before his exploits at Melbourne Park, Lehecka’s biggest splash came last February in Rotterdam, where he advanced to the semi-finals — before being beaten by Tsitsipas.