Stefanos Tsitsipas has endeared himself to Australian Open fans with a lovely on-court tribute to tennis legend, Rod Laver. The Greek star said he took inspiration from the Aussie great - whose name adorns the centre court at Melbourne Park - during a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 triumph over Italian 15th seed Jannik Sinner on Sunday night.
Tsitsipas booked his place in a third consecutive Australian Open quarter-final after a tense battle against the in-form Italian. The third seed extended his win streak this year to eight matches in a gruelling battle that stretched more than five hours.
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Victory for the 24-year-old, who is chasing his maiden grand slam title, sees Tsitsipas set up a clash against surprise package Jiri Lehecka for a place in the semi-finals. The 21-year-old Czech Lehecka stunned sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/3) earlier on Sunday. That upset put the Czech into the last eight at a grand slam for the first time after being knocked out in the first round at all four majors last year.
Tsitsipas told tennis great and commentator Jim Courier that he felt like he spent "an entire century" on court during the taxing last-16 encounter with Sinner. The Greek ace, clearly exhausted from the five-hour battle, drew huge applause from the crowd after admitting he was trying to channel Laver's legendary composure while out on court.
"I just stayed really calm, just like Mr Rod Laver used to do in his day," Tsitsipas said as the crowd roared its approval and Australian legend Laver saluted the Greek player from the stands. "It was a long match, I felt like I spent an entire century on this court playing tennis.
"What a great night. That was superb, 'a ripper' as they say here. I'm really excited to be sharing moments like this on the court, especially in Australia. I'm trying to do my best out here, it's not easy. I had an unbelievable opponent on the other side of the court today.
Tsitsipas, who lost in the 2022 semi-finals to eventual runner-up Daniil Medvedev, is playing for a double prize - not only a maiden major title but also the number one ranking. That will be his if he lifts the trophy in Melbourne and as the highest-ranked men's player left in the tournament, is viewed by many as the biggest threat to Novak Djokovic claiming a record-extending 10th Australian Open crown.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic in World No.1 battle
Djokovic, who he cannot meet before the final, can also become the world's top-ranked player should he be crowned for a 10th time in Melbourne. Tsitsipas led Sinner 4-1 in their head-to-head clashes leading into the match, including victory in the Melbourne quarter-finals last year.
The Greek ace was made to work hard against the 21-year-old sensation, Sinner, stating his intent by breaking the Italian in the first game thanks to a baseline error from his opponent. Tsitsipas then saved four break points in the next game to keep the advantage and went on to seal the first set.
It went with serve in the second until the Greek pounced for 5-4 with a sizzling cross-court forehand then served it out in 46 minutes to take control. But Sinner came storming back, with Tsitsipas saving six break points before finally succumbing to fall 3-1 behind and lose the set.
Sinner was fired up and constantly threatening, converting his second break point when Tsitsipas sent a forehand wide to move 2-1 clear in the fourth set. Sinner never looked back and his Greek rival had no answers as the match went to a deciding fifth set.
Sinner saved three break points in the fourth game, but when Tsitsipas worked three more on his opponent's next service game, he made no mistake. The third seed moved 4-2 clear and ultimately got over the line for the win.
Tsitsipas' next opponent is Czech surprise packet Lehecka, whose victory over sixth seed Auger-Aliassime represented the first over a top-10 player in the 21-year-old's career. "Honestly, it feels amazing," said Lehecka, who has climbed 70 places in the rankings over the past year to 71.
"After losing in the first round last year, if someone had told me before the tournament that I would be playing like this, I wouldn't have believed them." Lehecka's best result before this year's Australian Open came last February in Rotterdam, where he advanced to the semi-finals, before being beaten by Tsitsipas.
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