Rafael Nadal stunned as Stefanos Tsitsipas mounts epic Australian Open comeback to win five-set battle

Simon Briggs
·22-min read
Stefanos Tsitsipas - AP
Stefanos Tsitsipas - AP

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No6 from Greece, said on Wednesday that he had experienced “Nirvana” during his quarter-final meeting with Rafael Nadal. Imagine how he must have felt afterwards, having rallied to beat Nadal from two sets down.

Tsitsipas is a romantic soul and this was a thrilling night, which – had it only been blessed with spectators – would have been a contender for match of the tournament. With a crowd, though, the result might have been different. A loner by inclination, Tsitsipas enjoyed the silence so much that he reached the fabled “zone” where the body starts moving without conscious instruction.

“I was very serene during the match,” said Tsitsipas, after joining another select group: that of players with one-handed backhands who have beaten Nadal. “Maybe the absence of the crowd kept me like this.”

“Nothing was going through my head,” he added. “I think at the end of the third set I changed few things. But then it just took off by itself. I just played more flawless. I really didn't care, honestly.”

For Tsitsipas, it felt like an out-of-body experience. For Nadal, by contrast, the weakness of the flesh was increasingly evident.

After a dominant start, Nadal could perhaps have wrapped the win up in three sets, had it not been for a couple of botched smashes – a blue-moon event, given that his overhead is usually steadier than the price of gold.

But once Tsitsipas took control, it felt like Nadal didn’t have the legs to stay with him. Here was another rarity: the game’s most physical and implacable competitor running out of gas. Some observers pointed to his age – he will be 35 in June. But an alternative explanation lies in last month’s atypical build-up.

Perhaps this is what it takes for the legends of the men’s game to be overturned by the next generation: freaky circumstances like empty stadia and global pandemics, knocking them out of their usual watertight routines.

In his post-match interview, Nadal insisted that he had not suffered a recurrence of the back trouble that afflicted him in the build-up. But he did acknowledge a general lack of conditioning.

“Physically I was not fantastic but not bad,” Nadal said, after a 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5 defeat that leaves him still level with Roger Federer on 20 major titles apiece. “Is true that I probably need a little bit more time because for 20 days I was not able to practice the way that I expected, not able to play one single match in ATP Cup.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas - AFP
Stefanos Tsitsipas - AFP

Asked about the numerous injuries that have cut short his Australian Open challenges over the years – and limited him to a single title in Melbourne – Nadal was typically philosophical. “We can find excuses or reasons or maybe this quarantine that we need to be more time in the [hotel] room than usual. But I am not the guy that I gonna find excuses on that. Just accept. Doesn't matter the injuries that I had. I think I am very lucky person.”

The result means that Novak Djokovic – who will face Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev this morning – is the only man left in the tournament with a major to his name. Meanwhile, Tsitsipas has earned what promises to be a feisty semi-final against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who had taken care of compatriot Andrey Rublev in a much more straightforward quarter-final earlier in the day.

There has been an edge between these two since their meeting at Miami in 2018. That match degenerated into such a heated argument that the chair umpire had to shoulder in front of Medvedev, preventing him from challenging Tsitsipas as he collected his bag and flounced off the court.

“I might have said in the past that he plays boring,” said Tsitsipas of Medvedev. “But I don't really think that. He just plays extremely smart and outplays you. He's somebody I really need to be careful with.”

In the men’s doubles, meanwhile, there is guaranteed to be at least one Briton in the final after Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury both won their respective quarter-finals. As a result, Murray and Bruno Soares (of Brazil) are thus due to face Salisbury and Rajeev Ram (of the USA) in a semi-final that will have the secondary bonus of deciding British bragging rights.

“The stakes are high,” said Murray, “but it’s not like I am playing one of my peers, like Colin Fleming or Ross Hutchins, when there would be that awkwardness. Joe is a lot younger than me so I don’t feel [awkward] going into this match.”

01:14 PM

See you soon!

We'll leave it there for this live blog but join us again tomorrow for live coverage as world No 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic takes on Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.

01:10 PM

Tsitsipas speaks

"I am speechless. No words can describe what happened out on court, my tennis speaks for itself. It is an unbelievable feeling to be able to fight at such a level and leave my all out on the court.

"Today's performance was... I was very nervous, I won't lie, but I don't know what happened after the third set - I fly like a little bird and everything was working for me.

"The emotions at the end are indescribable."

01:05 PM

Thanasi Kokkinakis was impressed

01:04 PM

The final four

[1] Novak Djokovic vs. [Q] Aslan Karatsev

[4] Daniil Medvedev vs. [5] Stefanos Tsitsipas

01:00 PM

History for Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas becomes just the third person to beat Nadal from two sets down.

The previous two were Federer in 2005 and Fognini in 2015.

12:53 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 5-7 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas shanks a forehand, 0-15. Tsitsipas forehand error, 0-30. Nadal just wide with a forehand up the line, 15-30.

Tsitsipas ace, 30-all. Nadal forehand return into the net, match point. Wild Tsitsipas forehand goes wide, deuce.

Tsitsipas forehand winner, second match point. Nadal forehand winner off Tsitsipas' second serve.

Tsitsipas forehand error, break point Nadal. Huge Tsitsipas serve, deuce.

Nadal nets a drive forehand, third match point. Tsitsipas backhand winner down the line. GAME. SET. MATCH!

I can't breathe. That was an incredible display.

12:45 PM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 5-6 Tsitsipas

Nadal backhand long, 0-30. Big point coming up. Nadal backhand into the net, three set points.

Nadal forehand long. TSITSIPAS BREAKS AND WILL SERVE FOR THE MATCH

12:41 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 5-5 Tsitsipas*

Pressure? What pressure? Tsitsipas races to 40-15.

Nadal then forces an error from the fifth seed, 40-30. A series of blistering forehands from Tsitsipas and he finishes with a winner.

12:37 PM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 5-4 Tsitsipas

Nadal holds to love and forces Tsitsipas to serve to stay in the match.

Tsitsipas has been playing like a Greek god but can he cope with the pressure?

12:35 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 4-4 Tsitsipas*

Nadal just misses as he attempts one of his vintage running forehands. Tsitsipas then hits another ace followed by a forehand winner, 40-0.

Nadal shows Tsitsipas he is still around with a forehand return winner down the line. Tsitsipas holds again.

12:31 PM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 4-3 Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas forehand winner, 15-15. Terrific forehand volley winner by Nadal, 40-15. Such deft hands.

Nadal forehand mis-hit, 40-30. Nadal ace to hold.

12:28 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 3-3 Tsitsipas*

54 seconds. That is all it took for Tsitsipas to hit four consecutive aces. Wow.

Pressure put right back on Nadal as we enter the business end of the set.

12:24 PM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 3-2 Tsitsipas

Nadal ace, his 13th of the match, 30-0. So good from Tsitsipas as he goes toe-to-toe with Nadal and finishes with a forehand winner down the line.

Nadal forehand winner, 40-15. Tremendous ball striking from Tsitsipas to crack another forehand winner down the line.

But Nadal responds with a 14th ace of the match. His serve is keeping him in the match.

12:18 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 2-2 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas forehand winner, 30-15. Nadal goes long with a backhand return.

And another game goes by for Nadal as Tsitsipas cracks down an ace.

12:13 PM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 2-1 Tsitsipas

Great wrong-footing forehand by Nadal, 40-0. And he holds with a rare serve and volley winner.

12:11 PM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 1-1 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas forehand winner to open the game. But he goes just wide on the next point, 15-15.

The Greek holds again and is looking like the stronger player right now.

12:06 PM

Fifth Set: Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 1-0 Tsitsipas

A one-set shoot-out for a place in the semi-finals.

Tsitsipas pushes Nadal to 40-30 but when presented with a chance to make it deuce he misses with a forehand.

11:57 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas forehand winner, Nadal is convinced it is out but the ball catches the line, 15-15.

Another forehand winner from Tsitsipas, 30-15. Nadal mis-hits a forehand, two set points.

Nadal forehand into the net and into a fifth set we go. Sensational stuff.

11:53 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-5 Tsitsipas

Nadal forehand long, 0-30. Nadal gets level with a smash winner, 30-all.

Tsitsipas' forehand return just misses, 40-30. As the match ticks into the third hour, Nadal nets a forehand.

Nadal ace but he follows with a forehand error. Back to deuce.

Nadal puts a forehand long, break point Tsitsipas. Nadal looks stunned by that mistake.

Another forehand long and Tsitsipas break again. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

11:45 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-4 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas holds to 15 and looks full of confidence right now. The commentators feel the change in conditions are helping the Greek.

11:40 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-3 Tsitsipas

Nadal nets a backhand on the opening point. Then a wide forehand, 15-30.

Boom. Back-to-back Nadal forehand winners. Tsitsipas gets a coaching violation from the umpire.

Nadal goes long with a forehand, deuce. Nadal moves forward after an aggressive forehand and he finishes with a short angled backhand volley. This could be a pivotal game in the context of the match.

Stunning from Nadal. He hits a second serve ace, with Tsitsipas expecting the serve to go to his backhand.

And Nadal holds. That was big.

11:32 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 3-3 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas ace followed by a forehand winner, 40-15. The Tsitsipas shanks a backhand wide, 40-30.

Big serve and forehand combo from Tsitsipas to hold. This match is getting interesting.

11:27 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 3-2 Tsitsipas

Nadal forehand flies long, 0-15. Nadal smash winner, 15-15. A scintillating backhand by Tsitsipas opens the court and sets up an easy forehand winner, 15-30.

Nadal nets a backhand, 15-40. Two break points. He saves the first with an ace. Excellent wide serve by Nadal, deuce.

Tsitsipas pushes a forehand long. And Nadal holds when Tsitsipas puts a backhand return long.

11:21 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 2-2 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas has realised that only all out aggression and power is the way to go. He's hammering down the serves and forehands.

The Greek holds to love and is growing in confidence.

11:17 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 2-1 Tsitsipas

Nadal looks back to normal as he holds to love and maintain his lead in the set.

11:15 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 1-1 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas is doing everything he can to get his forehand into play and it is forcing Nadal into errors.

Nadal goes long with a backhand and then nets from the same wing to concede the game.

11:10 AM

Fourth Set: Nadal* 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 1-0 Tsitsipas

Nadal goes wide with a backhand, 0-15. Nadal forehand error, 30-30.

Tsitsipas' first break point of the match comes after a blistering forehand down the line.

Vintage wide serve and aggressive forehand by Nadal and he finishes with a smash winner.

Tsitsipas' level is forcing Nadal to lift his own and the second seed goes on the offensive.

He holds with a forehand winner. A bit of scoreboard pressure on Tsitsipas.

11:01 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 Tsitsipas - TIEBREAK

Tsitsipas unforced error, 1-0. Nadal mis-hits a smash, 1-1. Unreturned Tsitsipas backhand, 2-1. Nadal forehand into the net, 2-2. Big Tsitsipas first serve, 2-3. Tsitsipas backhand return wide, 3-3.

Nadal smash from the baseline goes long, 3-4. Nadal mis-hits a backhand, 3-5. Tsitsipas volley winner, 3-6. Nadal backhand volley winner, 4-6. Nadal backhand goes long, 4-7.

10:50 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-6 Tsitsipas

Nadal streak ends at 23 for this set, 27 in a row, as he is hurried into a forehand mistake by a deep Tsitsipas return, 40-15.

Tsitsipas backhand return long and we are into a tiebreak.

10:46 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 5-6 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas nets with a forehand on the opening point. But he does well to hand with Nadal and finish with a volley winner.

Tsitsipas ace, 30-15. Nadal forehand long, 40-15. Tsitsipas guarantees himself a tiebreak. How important will that volley winner be?

10:42 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 5-5 Tsitsipas

Make that 20 points in a row on serve for Nadal. Remarkable.

10:39 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 4-5 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas forehand winner followed by an ace, 40-0. Another ace allows the Greek to hold.

Now would be a good time for him to do something on Nadal's serve.

10:35 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 4-4 Tsitsipas

Four consecutive love holds. 16 points in a row. As good as Nadal is serving, Tsitsipas has been terrible on the return.

10:32 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-4 Tsitsipas*

Nice from Tsitsipas as he does well to get down and hit a volley winner off a huge Nadal forehand, 15-0.

Nadal does pass him with a backhand this time, 30-15. Tsitsipas forehand winner, 40-15.

Tsitsipas holds as Nadal goes long with a defensive backhand.

10:29 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 3-3 Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas is making little headway on Nadal's serve. But credit to Nadal for his serve placement.

The Spaniard races to 40-0 and holds again in just 70 seconds. He's missed one first serve in this set.

10:25 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 2-3 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas is hitting the ball as hard as he can but Nadal is so hard to break through.

The first point against the serve in this set comes as Tsitsipas fires a backhand wide, 40-15.

But he hits a big second serve to win another game.

10:22 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 2-2 Tsitsipas

The love holds continue in this set. Tsitsipas has not had a break point today and hasn't really come close.

10:19 AM

Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 1-2 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas looks a bit shell-shocked and unsure of what to do but he manages to hold and keep himself ahead in the set.

Does he have a plan B? He needs to find it quickly.

10:15 AM

*Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 1-1 Tsitsipas

Not even hit the 90 minute mark for the match. It is moving very quickly for Tsitsipas.

Nadal also holds to love.

10:14 AM

Third Set: Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 0-1 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas holds to love at the start of the set. You get the sense Nadal can break him whenever he likes. It is just a matter of when not if.

10:08 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 6-2 Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas attempts a flying backhand down the line but misses, 30-15. Nadal ace, 40-15.

Tsitsipas forehand into the net and Nadal is in cruise control.

10:03 AM

Nadal 6-3, 5-2 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas stops the bleeding and holds to love. But Nadal will serve for the set next.

09:59 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 5-1 Tsitsipas

Nadal is giving Tsitsipas nothing tonight. Too strong in every department.

Nadal holds to love. He's a game away from the set.

09:55 AM

Nadal 6-3, 4-1 Tsitsipas*

Nadal forehand winner, 0-30. Nadal backhand return wide, 15-30.

Tsitsipas' best backhand of the match so far as he hits a phenomenal backhand winner. That's the level he's having to play just to stay with Nadal.

Nadal backhand clips the net and flies past Tsitsipas, break point. Tsitsipas forehand error, Nadal breaks again.

09:49 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 3-1 Tsitsipas

Nadal forehand winner down the line, 15-15. Nadal backhand flies wide, 15-30.

Nadal ace, 40-30. And he finishes with a forehand winner.

09:45 AM

Nadal 6-3, 2-1 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas gets on the board in the second set and breaks Nadal's momentum.

09:40 AM

Nadal* 6-3, 2-0 Tsitsipas

Things have unravelled for Tsitsipas in the last 20 minutes but Nadal is shifting through the gears to stamp his authority on the match.

Tsitsipas hits a drop volley into the net, 40-15. Nadal holds when Tsitsipas goes wide with a backhand.

09:35 AM

Second Set: Nadal 6-3, 1-0 Tsitsipas*

Genuis from Nadal to get Tsitsipas moving left and right then finish with a forehand drop shot, 30-30.

Tsitsipas approaches with a sliced backhand and Nadal responds with a cross court backhand winner, break point.

Breathtaking from Nadal as he fires a forehand winner down the line. He breaks again.

09:26 AM

Nadal* 6-3 Tsitsipas

Good start to the game by Tsitsipas as he hits a backhand winner. Great backhand return draws the error from Nadal, 15-30.

Big Nadal serve up the T, 30-30. Tsitsipas forehand into the net, set point. Another Tsitsipas return error and Nadal wins the opening set.

09:22 AM

Nadal 5-3 Tsitsipas*

Slight delay as a ball kid wipes Nadal's sweat and bird poo off the baseline.

When the game gets underway, Tsitsipas hits a smash winner on the opening point. He then hits a forehand winner.

But Nadal responds with a cross-court backhand winner from deep. Tsitsipas then nets a forehand, 30-all.

Brilliant return from Nadal catches out Tsitsipas at the net as he tries to serve and volley, break point.

Tsitsipas forehand into the net and Nadal breaks.

09:15 AM

Nadal* 4-3 Tsitsipas

Nadal double faults to start the game. Nadal then nets a backhand, 0-30.

Back-to-back big first serves get Nadal back into the game.

Brilliant point construction by Nadal as he drags Tsitsipas wide and then whips a backhand winner into the open court, 40-30.

Tsitsipas puts a forehand long and Nadal holds.

09:10 AM

Nadal 3-3 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas drops his first point on serve as he goes wide with a forehand, 15-15. He then goes well long with a forehand. He's opened the door a little bit for Nadal.

Nadal goes long with a backhand, 30-30. He then nets a backhand after seeming to have the upper hand in the rally.

Tsitsipas holds with a smash winner. Strong finish by the fifth seed.

09:06 AM

Nadal* 3-2 Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas hits a nice forehand approach shot and finishes with a backhand volley winner, 30-30.

Nadal responds with an ace, 40-30. Tsitsipas nets with a backhand and Nadal holds.

It has been a tight opening 17 minutes.

09:02 AM

Nadal 2-2 Tsitsipas*

Tsitsipas' confident start continues as he secures another love hold.

The Greek's serve has always been good. It is his return game that is weak and will decide this match.

08:58 AM

Nadal* 2-1 Tsitsipas

Nadal ace, 30-0. He follows that with a 147 km/h forehand winner down the line, 40-0.

Nadal gets Tsitsipas on the run and draws the error to hold.

08:55 AM

Nadal 1-1 Tsitsipas*

Ideal start by Tsitsipas as he holds to love. He'll be pleased with that.

08:52 AM

First Set: Nadal* 1-0 Tsitsipas (*denotes server)

Nice start for Tsitsipas as he hits a block return and stands up well in a long rally with Nadal.

Tsitsipas goes for a backhand down the line but just misses, he will need that shot to be great tonight, 30-15.

Nadal double faults but Tsitsipas misses again with the backhand.

And Nadal holds as Tsitsipas nets a backhand return.

08:41 AM

Here we go...

Nadal and Tsitsipas walk onto court.

A reminder that there are no fans in the crowd. But that will change tomorrow with 7,477 fans allowed to be on Rod Laver Arena for each session.

08:31 AM

Preview

Eurosport pundit Tim Henman previews the upcoming match and feels the withdrawal of Matteo Berrettini will be "helpful" to Tsitsipas as he prepares to take on Nadal.

"I think it’s helpful for Stefanos, there’s no doubt about it. When you are going to play Nadal you need to have a full tank, full of energy," he said.

"He would never wish that on his opponent, but now that he is through he has got to take advantage.

"I’m sure he’ll probably have a decent practice session, he was preparing for the match so he’ll want to go out there and hit some balls with his coach but then change his focus from what would have been a difficult match against Berrettini to what will be an even bigger challenge against Nadal."

08:22 AM

Can Nadal end a long wait?

08:15 AM

Morning!

Hello and welcome to coverage of the last quarter-final of the men's draw between Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas will be hoping to gain revenge on Nadal and end the Spaniard's bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title when they meet in a rematch of their last-four encounter in Melbourne two years ago.

The Greek made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Melbourne Park in 2019, defeating Roger Federer in the fourth round before his remarkable run was halted in ruthless fashion by Nadal, who conceded just six games.

Tsitsipas has since established himself as a mainstay in the top 10, winning the ATP Finals in 2019, but the 22-year-old will have his task cut out against Nadal, who has won six of their seven meetings.

Nadal, 34, was all doom and gloom about his fitness on the eve of the year's first major but the lower back strain that forced him to miss the ATP Cup seems to be improving and he heads into the last-eight clash without the loss of a set.

"I was able to win four matches already, so now I'm going to have a very tough opponent and need to play my best," Nadal said after his fourth-round demolition of Fabio Fognini.

"I'm excited. If we compare how I was five days ago and now, it's different, my perspective and excitement is different too."

Meanwhile, Karolina Muchova said she was so dizzy she thought she was going to faint during her Australian Open quarter-final against Ash Barty before a lengthy medical timeout helped her regain her composure to turn the tables on the world No 1.

Home favourite and top seed Barty was leading by a set and a break when Muchova called for the timeout at a steamy Rod Laver Arena.

"I was feeling kind of dizzy at some point, like really lost and almost fainting. I just asked for help," said Muchova, who won 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals.

"They just checked my (blood) pressure because I was a bit lost, you know? I was spinning. So they cooled me down a bit with ice, and it helped me."

Play resumed nine minutes later and a recharged Muchova found her feet almost immediately, breaking Barty's serve for the first time in the match.

With shortened rallies and bold shot-making, Muchova went on to break her opponent twice in the final set to reach a Grand Slam semi for the first time.