(Photo credit: REUTERS/Albert Gea)
In what promises to be an exciting clash, one of the in-form players of the moment, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Portuguese #1 and home hope Joao Sousa in the Estoril Open semifinals. Tsitsipas is looking to reach his second Tour-level final, a week after he made his first in Barcelona. Tsitsipas’ performances of late have been commanding attention, but it will be Joao Sousa with the spotlight on him in home country. Who will reach the final?
Sousa and Tsitsipas have never played before on Tour. But Sousa is unquestionably the more experienced of the two. The 29-year-old is now something of a veteran having turned pro a decade ago, and he has 158 wins and a couple of titles to his name. Tsitsipas, just 19, doesn’t have those career numbers. In fact, he has just 18 career victories. But crucially, 14 of them have come this year, including 9 since the start of the clay court season.
Path to the semifinals
Tsitsipas arrived in Estoril fresh off the back of his exploits in Barcelona, but didn’t have long until he was thrown into the action against Pablo Andujar, who last month won the title in Marrakesh. Tsitsipas, however, was too strong, winning 7-6 6-3 to advance to the second round. There he faced a stern test against last year’s US Open finalist and world #8 Kevin Anderson, who was the top seed in Estoril. Things did not look to be going well for Tsitsipas when he dropped the first set on a tiebreak.
But the Greek rebounded impressively and was in control thereafter. He levelled the score by winning the second set by six games to three and then completed the win by taking the decider by the same score. That earned him a quarterfinal match up against Roberto Carballes Baena, the champion in Quito earlier this year. It was a tough match for Tsitsipas, but the Greek showed impressive resolution to battle through 6-7 6-2 7-6.
Sousa began his Estoril Open campaign with an impressive victory against the eighth seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia. Sousa, perhaps buoyed by the crowd, was able to play the better tennis in the vital moments, winning 7-6 7-5. He then surprisingly dropped the first set to his countryman, Pedro Sousa, ranked outside the top 100. But the higher ranked Sousa avoided the upset despite spirited play from his opponent, advancing 4-6 7-6 7-5. He then triumphed in a strange match against Kyle Edmund, winning 6-3 1-6 6-0.
How do they match up?
What has impressed about Tsitsipas so far during this clay court season has been the versatility of his offensive play. When he has been at his best, the teenager has been able to compliment his impressive power with a feathery touch. Tsitsipas has looked comfortable in the forecourt, and against Carballes Baena played a particularly athletic diving volley. But central to all his recent success, has been the reliable power he can summon from both wings.
Sousa doesn’t have that natural power of Tsitsipas, but he does have a fine forehand. It’s the Portuguese’s main weapon, and he uses it too good effect. Throughout his career, Sousa has tended towards periods of hot and cold form. When he plays well, like Tsitsipas, he is impressively versatile, using angles as well as either drawing his opponent into the net or attacking it himself. But when he plays poorly, he can become overly one-dimensional, relying too heavily on his forehand.
Tsitsipas has not had it easy so far in Portugal, and after his exploits in Barcelona he could well be feeling a little fatigued. But he is young, and this is the first burst of real success he’s had in his professional career. He will be feeling good in his game and he will want to keep that feeling going. Sousa, who seems unlikely to make this into a physical battle, might just be the right player for Tsitsipas to keep his run going against. The Greek in three.