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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, May 14, 2022


Stefanos Tsitsipas rallied past Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach his first Rome final and avenge a Madrid semifinal setback last Saturday.

Photo credit: Getty

Dabbing a drop shot short in the court, Stefanos Tsitsipas lured Alexander Zverev forward, then lifted a lob volley over his head.

Showcasing his all-court acumen and fine feel, Tsitsipas gave Zverev the runaround in Rome.

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Tsitsipas won five of the last six games defeating Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach his first Rome final today.

Avenging his three-set loss to Zverev in last Saturday’s Madrid semifinal, Tsitsipas beat the German for the eighth time in 12 meetings.

"Battle of the serves. Battle of being able to take that first shot after the serve and really put quite a lot of pressure to it, which I think I was able to do really well in the third set," Tsitsipas told the media in Rome. "I was able to return a few on the third a bit more than him, get the ball in play, stay in those rallies, not give away much.

"I think at some point I saw he was a little bit impatient, went for a few, and didn't succeed in his effort. I was really trying to stay there as long as possible and make every single one count."

It was Tsitsipas’ Tour-leading 31st win of the season, including a sparkling 14-2 clay-court record.

The victory vaults the two-time Monte-Carlo champion into his first Rome final—and third final of 2022.

The fourth-seeded Greek will play either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or Miami finalist Casper Ruud in tomorrow’s title match. If the top-seeded Serbian prevails in today’s second semifinal, he will set up a rematch of the 2021 Roland Garros final that saw Djokovic fight back from a two-set deficit to fend off Tsitsipas in five sets.

"I've looked back to those matches," Tsitsipas said of his past meetings vs. Djokovic. "I've analyzed them. There are things that didn't work for me after two sets to love up in Roland Garros.

"I guess I was always pretty stubborn, didn't want to change, because so far it was working for me, the thing that led me to being two sets to love up. There's always one more match where I can perhaps maybe do something different."

Tennis Express

Former Rome champion Zverev credited Tsitsipas for lifting his level of play.

"I think I gave away the break too early in the second set. I think since then he started playing much better," Zverev said. "I think my level went down a little bit. I returned much worse, I think, the next two sets than I did in the first set.

"But also, I mean, I got a little bit tired, to be honest. I played the final Madrid. Played long matches here. I mean, I'm not a machine. I'm a human being. This is normal.

"But he played well in the end. He deserves to win. He played better than me in the second and third set."

All-court acumen is one reason Tsitsipas had won seven of the prior 11 matches the pair had played. The lanky Greek is more comfortable moving forward and a formidable front-court presence.

Four games into the match, Zverev showed his closing skill.

Serving and volleying on a second serve, the 6’6” German dug out a demanding low backhand volley winner holding for 2-2.

Deadlocked at 30-all in the seventh game, Tsitsipas tightened up a bit shoveling a drop shot into net to face a break point for the first time.

The Greek serve-and-volleyed, but Zverev’s return tripped on the top of the tape and popped up creating an awkward issue for Tsitsipas whose reflex volley went wide. The second seed had the break and a 4-3 lead.

The Olympic gold medal champion was hitting his toss at its peak posing problems for Tsitsipas. Zverev burst through a two-ace game backing up the break for 5-3 after 44 minutes.

Flying forward, Zverev knocked off a high backhand volley for triple-set point. When Tsitsipas’ return found net, Zverev collected the 51-minute set played largely on his terms.

The second-seeded Germany not only doubled Tsitsipas’ winner output—14 to 7—he took the net away from the Greek winning 10 of 13 net points, including that slick serve and volley on game point. Tsitsipas, who was content to play baseline rallies, was just two of six at net in the first set.

Grounds crew watered down the court before the start of the second set.

In the opening set, Zverev elicited appreciative cheers from the crowd when he carefully carried a butterfly off court.

That sensitive touch eluded Zverev in his opening game of the second set. A stray forehand and a couple of double faults, including a nervous deceleration on a second serve he pushed into net, gifting the break and a 2-0 second-set lead to Tsitsipas.

Obviously, Zverev is one of the biggest hitters on Tour, which makes attacking challenging. Still, it was perplexing Tsitsipas, who possesses more variety, was hesitant to deploy it. Spraying a forehand wide to face a second break point, Tsitsipas screamed at himself in frustration. This time, Tsitsipas took charge at net driving a deep backhand volley to erase it.

A Tsitsipas lunging forehand volley capped a demanding hold for 3-0 prompting his entire support team to leap from their seats raising clenched fists to mark the fight.

Zverev denied a couple of break points—shaking out his right ankle in apparent pain at one point—grinding through an eight-minute hold for 2-4.

A slice serve down the T set up a scalding forehand winner giving Tsitsipas double set point. On his second set point, Tsitsipas kicked the wide serve sealing the second set after one hour, 42 minutes.

Firing his first serve with accuracy, Tsitsipas served 71 percent and hit three aces in the second set. The Roland Garros runner-up also played a cleaner set clocking eight winners against one error.

Though there’s been bad blood between these two in the past, this semifinal was all business.

Yesterday, Tsitsipas said he has "respect" for Zverev, who accused him of receiving illegal coaching via text in Cincinnati last summer.

Today, Zverev said the pair are on solid terms after playing Laver Cup together.

"I think my relationship with Stefanos has been quite good over the last I would say two years, three years since we played Laver Cup together," Zverev said. "I don't have any problems with him.

"I congratulated him today. I wished him the best of luck for tomorrow's final. But we are competitors, so at the end of the day when we're going on court we're trying to win."

But I don't have any issues with him.Down 15-30, Zverev caught the Greek on a sneak attack and fired a flying forehand pass. That superb strike helped Zverev rally from love-30 down to hold in the opening game of the decider.

Tsitsipas applied his variety and explored more areas of the court as the set progressed.

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The second seed blinked midway through the set. Tsitsipas zapped a forehand pass down the line, Zverev again decelerated on his first double fault of the set then pasted a forehand into net dropping serve in the fifth game.

The fourth seed moved in and carved out a fine drop shot confirming the break at 30 for a 4-2 lead.

All the good work Zverev did at net in the first set dissolved in the decider. The German botched a pair of volleys to face triple match point.

Holding his ground in an extended backhand exchange, Tsitsipas drew Zverev in with the short dropper coaxing one final miss. Tsitsipas won eight of the last nine points sealing a two hour, 28-minute triumph for his first Rome final.


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