By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas appeared heartbroken after managing just six games in his maiden Grand Slam semi-final against Rafa Nadal at the Australian Open on Thursday, but his fans left Melbourne Park celebrating the arrival of a new national hero.
The rangy, shaggy-haired youngster attracted the local Greek community to come out in force at his matches and the semi-final clash on a scorching hot day was no different as hundreds turned out for the 20-year-old.
The Greeks belted out songs of support at the Grand Slam Garden adjacent to the Rod Laver Arena during his match and the chants of “Stefanos Tsitsipas! Ole, Ole, Ole” continued way after the 6-2 6-4 6-0 hammering.
For his part, Tsitsipas appeared to be on the verge of tears when he faced reporters.
“That’s definitely not the way I wanted to leave from the tournament. At least I wanted to fight, maybe a fourth set, get something out of it, not just leave with six games only from that match,” he said.
“I just couldn’t today. Felt very slow today. I feel pretty fast when I’m on the court. I mean, I’ve improved a lot in that part of my game. Today I felt like a two-metre-10 guy that can’t move on the court. That’s definitely not me. I don’t know.
“Just felt weird. The whole match felt weird from the very beginning. My body was stiff. I wouldn’t say I was serving very well.”
Tsitsipas proved himself to be a genuine contender at Melbourne Park after humbling double defending champion Roger Federer 6-7(11) 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(5) in the fourth round.
But he was left searching for answers to explain the pounding at the hands of Nadal.
“I’m really disappointed today because, again, I feel like I could get closer and prove myself a little bit more, not let him dominate the entire match. Just felt wrong,” Tsitsipas said, promising to work even harder in the future.
“I hope it doesn’t happen again. I really hope it doesn’t. It’s nice to have wins against these kind of players, top four. I really want it badly. But I’ve got to want it a bit more than I want it at the moment.”
Nadal said the Greek had a bright future ahead of him.
“He played a great event. First semi-finals for him. He’s young. He has everything to become a great champion,” the Spaniard told reporters.
“There is not many reasons to be down when you started the season like this, in my opinion, even if it is normal just straight after the match you can’t be happy.”
His fans could not agree more and said Tsitsipas has united the Greek community in Melbourne as they continued singing his praise even as Nadal served for the match.
“It was his first semi-final. We love him no matter what,” said Jessica Papas, a 20-year-old Greek-Australian girl draped in Greece’s national flag.
“We are so proud of him. He’s just 20, give him a year or two and he will start winning.”
George Angelopoulos, 23, was confident it was just the start for Tsitsipas.
“His progress is amazing, the past year and a half he’s come from 90th in the world to top 10. I mean, that’s incredible,” he said. “He’s made all us Greeks proud. What more can we ask for? It’s actually amazing.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)