MELBOURNE, Australia – Stefanos Tsitsipas has played Rafael Nadal – twice in 2018 – and lost to him twice.
He has played Novak Djokovic – once, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto – and defeated him.
But he had never faced Roger Federer, the player he most resembles stylistically. At least not officially, since the Hopman Cup is an exhibition event.
Until Sunday night at the Australian Open.
This will be the premiere for the 20-year-old rising Greek star, and the 37-year-old legend.
“I’m happy I played against him at the Hopman Cup. I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis. This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a slam, you know, where we know now how we feel on this court,” Federer said.
“I’m happy for him. He’s playing so well, and I’m looking forward to the matchup with him. I think it’s going to be a good one. I like how he mixes up his game and also comes to the net. So will I. I think we will see some athletic attacking tennis being played.”
Two tiebreaks in Perth
When the two met at the Hopman Cup in Perth a few weeks ago, Federer defeated Tsitsipas in two tiebreaks.
But this is a completely different deal. This will be only the second time Tsitsipas has played in the second week of a major. And it is only the second time he has passed the second round. As well, this is the first time Tsitsipas has even won a main-draw match in Australia.
“I learned a lot since my last match with him. I know the patterns that he’s using a bit better now. He’s serving really well, so I’m going to have to utilize his, and take advantage of my returns as much as possible. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be serving well, so, yeah, return games need to be aggressive and pressing a lot,” Tsisipas said.
“Yeah, he’s a legend of our sport. It will be a great day facing him in one of the best arenas, Rod Laver. I’m really excited for that match.”
Tsitsipas dropped a set in each of his first three matches, all against quality opponents: Matteo Berrettini, the veteran Viktor Trocki, and the high-regarded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Here’s what he looked like on the practice court Saturday, one court over from where Federer arrived to hit – but before a far less reverent crowd.
For Federer, the crowd gathered well ahead of time just to get a glimpse of him walking to the court.
They were watching from up above, in the fan walkway – even from further away, outside Rod Laver Arena. They climbed trees. They stood on garbage cans.
It’s a familiar sight at tournaments.
Maybe someday, Tsitsipas will practice before those kinds of crowds. In Australia, he has gotten a taste of it, with the large and enthusiastic Greek contingent supporting both him and Maria Sakkari.
For now, he’s the aspirant to the throne.