LONDON: Stefanos Tsitsipas was at a loss to explain how he beat Gael Monfils to reach the Dubai Tennis Championship final on Saturday.
The Greek hero came from a set down to beat the Frenchman 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 and after saving 11 of 14 break points, it is fair to say Tsitsipas did it the hard way. He went into the semifinal clash tired and worried fatigue would deal an ace at any hope he would make the final at the Aviation Club. But having illustrated it will take a lot for him to back down, Tsitsipas admitted he was shocked to beat Monfils.
“I just played. I just played tennis,” he said.
“I was probably a bit more concentrated than usual. I didn’t want to give it to him. That’s why I saved those breakpoints.
“I entered the semifinal, I was so tired. I could feel my body. I don’t know, I was not expecting much from me, to be honest. I was just playing.
“My main focus was not to go too much. If you would play good shots, usually I would run for them, give 100 percent. But I felt like my body will crack if I do that again.”
The victory that took two hours 59 minutes extended Tsitsipas’ winning streak to eight matches and only served to underline his status as tennis’ rising star. Since he beat Roger Federer at the Australian Open earlier this year the 20-year-old has been labeled the next “big thing” to challenge the sensational trio of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the Swiss. He won in Marseilles last week and now has a chance to land his third title. Whatever the result on Saturday, the Greek will enter the top 10 and one suspects he will stay there for a long time.
When he was in Dubai in December, Tsitsipas revealed his goals for the year, two of which were to reach the semis of a Grand Slam and the world’s top 10. In just 14 matches in 2019 he has already achieved both of those aims. And after the “sweet and tasty” win over Monfils the Greek star said the win was more significant than simply reaching another final.
“I take a lot from that (victory),” he said.
“I have improved since last year. Beating the big guys, big players, players that have been in the top 10, means a lot to me. I want to get there at some point myself, and I made it today. (It is) probably a special day for Greece.”
“I’m practicing. I’m doing everything, all the hard work I’m doing to face these guys and beat them. That’s my main purpose on court, beat most of the guys all the time I’m facing, some out of the top 100, some inside the top 100, maybe top 50. The biggest joy is to beat the top 10 guys.”
For Monfils, who was 3-0 down in the first set before storming back to win five games in a row to take it 6-4, the defeat was hard to take and one he pinned on his faulty serve.
“In term of the game, I guess I had some opportunities,” the world No. 23 said.
“I couldn’t made them great today. I think I was up a break, and I didn’t serve that good starting the second set. It was big confirmation when he broke me back. Less first serve, less accuracy.”
Like most fans Monfils is in no doubt that Tsitsipas has what it takes to go a long way.
“He’s a great player. He just broke the top 10. He’s one of the best players in the tour,” he said.