Dubai Tennis: Stefanos Tsitsipas wins thriller against Gael Monfils to reach final
The No 5 seed comes from a set and a break down to win semi-final clash 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium
Exhausted and in pain, Stefanos Tsitsipas battled his way into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final - and into the world’s top-10 - after a gruelling three-set victory over Gael Monfils on Friday.
Tsitsipas arrived in Dubai immediately after winning the Marseille Open on Sunday, and while positive momentum is no bad thing for a tennis player, the physical demands have started to take their toll.
A straightforward win would therefore have been welcomed by the 20-year-old Greek. Instead, he was forced to dig deep in a match lasting one minute shy of three hours, beating Monfils 4-6, 7-6, 7-6.
Despite his draining win, Tsitsipas insisted he was trying to conserve energy to protect a back injury severe enough that he contemplated withdrawing ahead of the match.
“[I was] not running stupid to get shots that I will probably lose,” he said. “I don't know if you saw that when I was on the court. My back was hurting a lot when I entered the court.
“At some point when I entered, I started feeling this back pain before I started warming up. I thought, ‘this feels horrible, maybe I should retire’. It felt really bad.
“I’ve never retired in my life, not once, so I didn't want it to happen today. I said, ‘OK, maybe serve well, come to the net’. As you saw, I was approaching a lot today. I was trying to avoid the rallies from the baseline as much as possible.”
It was a strategy that appeared to pay immediate dividends as Tsitsipas raced into a 3-0 lead. However, his advantage was short-lived, with Monfils roaring back to claim two breaks of serve before serving out the opening set.
When Monfils broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set, the in-form Frenchman - who won the Rotterdam Open last month - looked set for a comfortable victory.
But Tsitsipas displayed his fighting spirit to get back on level terms at 3-3, and after missing his first set point chance with Monfils serving at 5-6, eventually levelled the match in a tightly-contested tie break.
An even match was then decided after an even deciding set, although Monfils will rue his missed opportunities in the eighth game when he failed to take any of four break points that would have allowed him to serve for the match.
Instead, it was Tsitsipas who emerged victorious after another close tie break. At times it was a back-to-the-wall performance, in which the Greek No 1 held off 11 break points.
“How this [match] changed suddenly. Like, the whole match changed out of nowhere,” Tsitsipas said. “I can only recall twice, twice in my career, facing good players, I remember once again [Alexander] Zverev, in Toronto, and once against Gael today. That was huge.
“Today [when] I entered the semi-final, I was so tired. I don't know, I was not expecting much, 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 per cent, but today I felt like my body will crack if I do that again.”
Visibly tired and carrying an injury that could restrict his movement in Saturday’s final, Tsitsipas still produced an enormous grin when reminded he had broken into the top-10 in the world rankings. “Sweet and tasty” is how he described reaching the milestone.
Monfils was understandably disappointed after letting victory slip through his fingers.
“I guess I had some opportunities. I couldn't make them today,” he said. “I think I was up a break, and I didn't serve that good starting the second set. It was a big confirmation when he broke me back. Less first serve, less accuracy.
“I’m just going to keep the positive side. I need to be better, that's it. I need to be better to win those big matches.”
Updated: March 1, 2019 10:47 PM