On the Sunday Roland Garros started, reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas and red-hot Russian Andrey Rublev were in Germany battling in the final of the Hamburg European Open.
Now, the 22-year-old stars are set to battle in the quarter-finals of the clay-court Grand Slam.
“He’s a very challenging player to play against,” Tsitsipas said. “I think he for sure brings the best out of me when I step out on the court to play against him.”
In their Hamburg final, Tsitsipas served for the championship, but Rublev rallied for the trophy and a 2-1 lead in their ATP Head2Head series. They played on multiple occasions in the juniors six years ago, clashed in a five-set thriller at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals and now they will meet once more for a spot in a major semi-final.
“It is very important for me to take this opportunity and fight harder this time, maybe do something better. He’s a tough cookie,” Tsitsipas said. “He’s going to be difficult to play against. He has a very complete, solid game from all the departments. He has improved a lot his serve. He relies a lot on his power. He has very powerful shots. We share a similar game style.”
Watch Rublev-Tsitsipas Hamburg Highlights:
Tsitsipas has slightly more variety in his game. The Greek has a stronger serve — he began the tournament third on the ATP Tour in service games won compared to Rublev’s 12th — and is more comfortable using angles to open up the court and move forward. But Rublev, pound-for-pound, might have the most power in the sport.
Both players have also overcome adversity in Paris. They each rallied from two sets down for the first time in their opening match, with Tsitsipas overcoming Jaume Munar and Rublev ousting Sam Querrey.
“Both of us had a tough, tough week in Hamburg, tough final. Then both of us were down in the first round with two sets to love. Both of us come back,” said Rublev, the 2014 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion who had never won a main draw match at the event before this year. “Now we are here and we’re going to play each other in quarters… I hope it’s going to be interesting. I hope we’re going to show a good level, good match, and I hope people will enjoy [it].”
Wednesday’s other quarter-final will see World No. 1 Novak Djokovic continue his pursuit of a second Roland Garros title. The Serbian has not dropped a set through four matches in Paris for the third time, and he will try to continue his impressive form against 17th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
“Carreno Busta is someone that is obviously very solid. I think he actually improved his game in the last 12, 15 months on all the surfaces. I mean, playing semi-finals in the US Open proves it,” Djokovic said. “Has very good hands, great return. Puts you under a lot of pressure.
“He moves very well. Obviously, as all the Spanish players, he grew up playing on clay, even though probably his game fits the hard court, kind of slower hard courts, the most.”
The Spaniard, a two-time US Open semi-finalist, is bidding for his first trip to the last four at this event. In 2017, he reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros.
“Maybe these kind of conditions also fit him nicely because the ball doesn’t bounce too high, he plays quite flat from both corners. He actually likes [the] slower surface,” Djokovic said. “Similar to Bautista [Agut], he waits for the opponent’s mistake, but he can also come in, step in, play his backhand down the line. He’s a very complete player.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Djokovic carried plenty of momentum, fresh off his victory at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The Serbian is 35-1 in 2020 and he can win his 18th major trophy this fortnight.
“Another match against the No. 1 of the world. He won two weeks ago in Rome. He’s winning his matches here in Paris not easily, but comfortably. It will be a really tough match,” Carreno Busta said, “For sure he will be at 100 per cent again. I will try to do my best to try to beat him.”
Djokovic leads their ATP Head2Head series 3-1, with two of those meetings coming on clay, both at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. In 2014, Djokovic only lost one game against the Spaniard. But in 2017, their clash went to three sets. If the top seed triumphs Wednesday, he will reach his 10th Roland Garros semi-final.