Abu Dhabi: Stefanos Tsitsipas has been harping about how the next generation is ready to disturb the established order of the ‘big three’ in men’s tennis ever since his arrival in Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
On Friday evening, the Greek laid down a marker in said quest as he accounted for world No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
Tsitsipas fought back from a set down to win 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in a little over two hours in a match Djokovic rightly described as a “thriller for the beginning of the season”.
Brilliant tennis shots and rudimentary errors broke the monotony of percentage playing and it could have been said that both Tsitsipas and Djokovic lost their way in the game from time to time.
The match opened with a long first game where Djokovic was pushed hard. He held serve after deuce and — helped by a slew of errors from Tsitsipas — the Serb broke the world No. 6 in the very next game.
After the next three games went with serve, the pair exchanged breaks other over the two games that followed. First Djokovic capitalised on his rivals errors and made the best of three break points, then Tsitsipas broke back after Djokovic miscued and hit long. Djokovic sealed the first set at 6-3 after Tsitsipas saved a break point to force deuce but then hit long unnecessarily.
He was better in the second set as Djokovic’s game started to show chinks.
Tsitsipas broke Djokovic twice in the second and sixth games and looked solid to see out the set, but then strangely let his rival break back twice late on to force a tiebreaker.
It was a solid performance from Djokovic who seemed to have temporarily found his groove, but Tsitsipas proved too strong in the tiebreaker and after serving an ace down the middle to make it 6-4, he wrapped it up with a strong crosscourt forehand winner.
Tsitsipas carried the momentum into the third set and broke Djokovic in the first game. He nearly claimed back-to-back breaks after a series of attempted drop shots by Djokovic saw him hit into the net. Still the seven-time Australian Open champion managed to rein himself in time and saved the game. It went with serve again and Djokovic kept himself from being broken again in the seventh game with a splendid drop shot from the baseline that died on Tsitsipas.
Finally after two hours and three minutes, Tsitsipas walked to his baseline and served the set out at 6-4, claiming the first of three match points with a lovely forehand crosscourt winner and then sending an ace down the middle which sealed victory.
Djokovic said: “It was a good match and everybody enjoyed. Congratulations to Stefanos. It was a real thriller for the beginning of the season and thanks to everyone for coming out tonight to support this event.”
Tsitsipas added: “It was a bit tricky in the beginning. Novak is so much more experienced but for me it was a good match. It’s a good combination to have this as preseason and the overall atmosphere and crowd experience was really amazing.”