Tsitsipas v Isner: Things we learned

Greek looking more and more like the man to beat in the bottom half of the draw

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021©Cédric Lecocq / FFT
 - Simon Cambers

Stefanos Tsitsipas toughed it out at Roland-Garros on Friday as he fended off the big-serving, big-hitting John Isner in four sets to reach the fourth round.

Here’s what we learned from the No.5 seed’s 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory under the lights on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Tsitsipas has resilience and patience

Dealing with the John Isner serve, especially on clay where it bounces even higher, can be a dispiriting feeling but the Greek showed plenty of patience as he dealt with the loss of the first set well.

Isner had not dropped his serve once in his two previous matches but Tsitsipas managed it once in the second set and twice more in the fourth as he clinched a well-earned victory after two hours, 38 minutes.

Even when he was frustrated after losing the first set and then missing three break points early in the second, Tsitsipas simply got animated, not angry, channelling his annoyance into his game, raising his level exactly when he needed to.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Andre Ferreira/FFT

“The match was pretty much one pattern, kept repeating itself,” he said. “It was kind of difficult to adjust, I felt my body a little cold, a little bit of anger, frustration, I let it out, that eventually woke me up to be able to handle future situations a little better.”

Once he had got the break in the middle of the second set, Tsitsipas was able to relax and after taking the third on the tiebreak, 7-3, he broke early in the fourth and held the advantage to seal his place in the last 16 for the third year in a row.

“He’s one of the toughest guys to play, the serve is obviously a big obstacle,” Tsitsipas said.

“I didn’t have the best start, things started going my way in the second set, I started finding my returns and my rhythm from the baseline and I think my head kind of cleaned up and led me to that important victory.”

Greek the favourite to emerge from bottom half

We probably knew this beforehand, but seeing Tsitsipas find a way to deal with Isner reasserted his status as the favourite to come through the bottom half of the draw.

A semi-finalist last year, Tsitsipas came into Paris having won the title in Monte-Carlo and been within a point of beating Rafael Nadal in the Barcelona final.

Daniil Medvedev, the No.2 seed, is the highest-ranked player in the bottom half but the Russian is still learning on clay while Tsitsipas looks the most assured of all the challengers.

He has now won 19 matches on clay this year, level with another player into the fourth-round, Federico Delbonis, while Tsitsipas’ 36 wins overall in 2021 are the highest on tour.

Change in conditions useful against Isner

Isner had spoken at length about how much he enjoys playing in warm conditions, especially on clay, where he is able to kick his serve way over the heads of most players.

At 6ft, 5in, Tsitsipas is tall enough but the Greek had to reach high at times and vary his return position to combat the Isner serve. But crucially, playing at night, and in the cooler, heavier conditions may have dampened the effect of the Isner serve and as the match wore on, he started to read it too.

That’s good news for Tsitsipas as he goes on in the tournament, the ability to handle changes in conditions and be equally effective no matter what will be a real advantage.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2021, third round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Stef can play at the net too

The secret to clay-court tennis is not just being able to command things from the baseline and outlast your opponent. It’s also about being able to mix things up and spot the chance to move forward.

Tsitsipas has an excellent technique on the volley and he’s always looking to go forward, to take the initiative in a rally.

And just like Nadal, who seems to be at the net more often on clay than he is even on other surfaces, Tsitsipas went forward a lot against Isner, and to good effect, winning 15 of his 20 points at the net.

That should stand him in good stead for his fourth-round match against the 12th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, a man he has beaten on both their previous meetings, including on clay in Barcelona in 2018.