Tsitsipas makes history for Greece, reaches first major final

Fifth seed becomes first player from his nation to make a Grand Slam championship match following win over Zverev

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Stefanos Tsitsipas best not let his mind drift too long to home lest he becomes swept up at the thought of celebrations already erupting in Greece.

Following a lion-hearted three-hour, 35-minute tussle, the 22-year-old took the greatest step yet in his fledgling journey to deny Alexander Zverev and reach his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland-Garros on Saturday.

His 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory delivered Greece its first Grand Slam finalist.

Having come up short at this stage three times previously in a major, Tsitsipas has become the youngest finalist in Paris since Rafael Nadal triumphed in 2008.

 “All I can think of is my roots, where I came from. I came from a really small place outside Athens,” Tsitispas said on court as he fought back tears. “My dream was to play here. My dream was to play in the big stage of Roland-Garros one day. I would have never thought I would.

“It is very important for me to do my job well enough to have recognition back in my country, but not only that, I'm very happy that Greece is part of the tennis community more now.

“I'm very happy that me and Maria [Sakkari] have been doing a great job so far, elevating the sport and keeping the hopes of Greek tennis alive.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

For the second day running, the blue and white flags of home were dotted throughout the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd.

And with those flags came a worrying sense of déjà vu.

After Maria Sakkari came up agonisingly short of converting a match point in her women’s singles semi-final, Tsitsipas – so utterly dominant for the opening two sets – was on the ropes.

Sixth seed Zverev had been here before. From two sets down, the German had roared back to deny Pablo Carreno Busta to reach his maiden Slam final at last year’s US Open.

And with momentum firmly in his corner he looked poised to carry that again when he brought up 0-40 on the Greek’s serve in the opening game of the deciding set.

Tsitsipas was flailing and summoned the adrenaline kick he so desperately needed from a wanting crowd as he dug himself out of that hole to hold.

“Well it was nerve-wracking. It was so intense that fifth set, the first game. I think it was the most important game of the fifth set,” Tsitsipas said. “I came back, I was still alive, had the crowd with me, they were cheering me on, they were giving me their energy.”

Barring his copious bling briefly becoming tangled in his tank top, Zverev had held with few hassles since dropping the second set. But in the fourth game of the decider, a slew of sloppy mistakes snapped his run of 11 straight holds.

Four match points went begging on the German’s serve, before Tsitsipas finally delivered – an ace on his fifth opportunity and his arms were raised in triumph.

“I still felt like it was opportunities for me to fight back and do something… Your only job is to go out there and fight and that's what I did,” he said. “It was very difficult, very emotional. I went through a lot of phases of emotional breakdowns. This win means a lot, this win is the most important one of my career so far.”

The 24-year-old Zverev has never beaten a top-10 opponent at a major now in 10 attempts. Despondent at having let his younger opponent back into the battle, there was no hiding his feelings.

“I'm not at a stage anymore where great matches are something that I'm satisfied with. Today nothing, I lost. I'm not in the final,” Zverev said. “Was it a good match? Yeah. But at the end of the day I'm going to fly home tomorrow. There's nothing positive about that.”

Deep beneath the stands of Chatrier, two men with 38 majors between them were pacing.

Nadal and Novak Djokovic were eager to take the court to earn the right to face Tsitsipas.

“Both of them, it will have to be physical, both of them attention to detail, full concentration,” said Tsitsipas, who now owns a tour-leading 22-3 win-loss record on clay this season that includes title runs in Monte Carlo and Lyon.

“There isn't much difference between those two. I feel it's got to be the same commitment and same level of tennis and intensity regardless of who is going to win.”

Celebrations in Greece aren’t about to subside, but Tsitsipas now has two days to recuperate from his most important win. His biggest final awaits.

“For sure that's the first step,” he said. “I haven't finalised it yet.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final©️ Nicolas Gouhier/FFT