Continuing with the theme of introducing these short, first impression match reports with a tennis maxim, “Always change a losing game, never change a winning one.” No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas seemed to have come into Wednesday’s match determined to beat Jan-Lennard Struff at his own game. The German plays quick strike tennis – very well, Stefanos would play quicker strike.
After a few games I tweeted that hardly any points were lasting longer than 5 strokes: In fact, there were no rallies over 9 points in the first set. Tsitsipas was standing about a meter behind the baseline to return serve. Struff found that balls aimed to his opponent’s backhand invariably produced a short return, allowing him a simple putaway forehand. Tsitsipas gifted a break to Struff at 3-3 with four unforced errors, and Struff was able to serve out the first set with comparative ease.
The umpire gave Tsitsipas a soft warning for coaching at the changeover between sets, an incident that would play out later. Struff was still in the zone, feathering a cross court half volley, cracking forehand returns up the line and breaking to start set 2. Now Tsitsipas began to make adjustments, dropping back a meter and a half to return serve (spotted also by @MattRacquet). Tsitsipas began to make inroads on his opponent’s serve, but he couldn’t manufacture any break points.
Struff walked out to serve for the match at 5-4, but before he stepped to the line the umpire awarded a code violation to Tsitsipas for coaching. It didn’t seem to faze Struff, who hit two big serves to lead 30-0. Then he played a tentative backhand volley, a long backhand and a double fault, came charging in on a serve-and-volley and was passed. From nowhere, we were back on serve.
The crowd, strongly behind Tsitsipas, roared their approval. The second set went to a tiebreak: a 6-2 Tsitsipas lead was pegged back to 6-5, but the Greek player held his nerve and served out the set. The crowd roared again.
There were only two break point opportunities in set 3, both held by Struff, both erased with aces. At 2-2, 30-0, Tsitsipas bellowed “NOOO!! F— IT!!!”, which is an audible obscenity if ever I’ve heard one. The chair umpire acted totally deaf and didn’t award a code violation/penalty point.
Like the second set, the third set went to a tiebreak. Struff gained an early minibreak on a soft Tsitsipas backhand error, and nursed it to 6-3. He couldn’t win either of his first two match points on return, and again served-and-volleyed on match point. This time Tsitsipas came up with a forehand pass to level the tiebreak at 6-all. More ecstasy from the crowd.
But alas for their hopes! Tsitsipas dived full length behind the baseline in a vain attempt to get a forehand back into play, and then sent a forehand shank arcing out of court on the fourth match point. A woman behind me in the Grandstand let out a groan of dismay: “Oh, so sad, so sad.”
Struff had played in the zone for much of the match, and it hadn’t been enough; offered a lifeline, his higher ranked opponent had grasped it, then agonizingly let go when safety was in reach.
Tsitsipas is still in a relatively comfortable spot in the ATP Race To London, but he’s gone out in his first match in both Masters tournaments in the US Open Series. The shotmaking ability and athleticism are undeniable; the strategic sense and decision making ability he’ll need to reach the next level aren’t yet in evidence.
Struff takes on Daniil Medvedev in the R16 for the chance to meet the winner of Federer and Rublev. No one will see him as an easy out.