Rafael Nadal’s tilt at a record 21st grand slam will have to wait after Stefanos Tsitsipas delivered one of the sport’s more extraordinary comebacks to beat the great Spaniard in a five-set Australian Open classic.
Up two sets to love on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night, the world No.2 appeared well on his way to a 35th grand slam semi-final.
But the resolute Greek hunkered down to pinch the third set in a tiebreak, then went on to claim the match of the tournament 3-6 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 7-5 to set up a last-four match with Daniil Medvedev.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to fight on such a level,” Tsitsipas said after the match.
It marked just the second time in Nadal’s 19-year grand slam career that he’d lost a match after being two sets up, the only other occasion coming against Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open.
He’d lost one other Masters series match against Roger Federer the same way.
An exceptional standard of tennis by Nadal in the first two sets gave little indication of the drama that was to unfold.
The 34-year-old looked almost untouchable, striking winner after winner, hitting just 12 unforced errors and not facing a break point.
Nadal then lost just a solitary point in his six service games in the third set but Tsitsipas refused to cede on his own delivery and took it to a tiebreaker.
A handful of Nadal mistakes then saw the match pivot.
Extracting two Nadal errors off smashes and a shanked forehand to bring up three set points, Tsitsipas took advantage of the second to bring the match alive.
Opportunities became more frequent for Tsitsipas in the fourth set, the two-time grand slam semi-finalist eventually converting in the ninth game to help draw the match level.
His confidence continued to grow in the decider, Tsitsipas breaking Nadal in the 11th game and taking out the contest on his third match-point with a down-the-line winner.