17-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal takes on Stefan’s Tsitsipas in the Australian Open semifinals. It will be only the third time the two have met competitively. The first time they met was at the Barcelona ATP 500 event where Nadal prevailed 6-1 6-2. It wasn’t much of a surprise as the Spaniard’s numbers on clay are second to none. He boasts a gaudy 0.920 winning percentage (415-36) on clay, winning 57 titles.

The second time the two went head-to-head it was at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Canada, in Toronto. This time they met on a hard court, a surface at the bottom of Nadal’s likes list. (His winning percentage dips to 0.773 with a record of 435-128) Tsitsipas fared slightly better, but only just. He lost 7-6(4) 6-2 in the finals. The tournament was particularly good for the Greek, beating five Top Ten players en route to the final: Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, and Kevin Anderson. Melbourne’s hard courts offer him a decent shot at taking Nadal down.

On hard courts and clay, Nadal’s percentage of service games won remains steady at 85%. However, the disparity between his percentage of Return Games Won on hard court and clay is significant. When playing on slow clay, Nadal registers a 43% winning percentage on return games vs. a 29% winning percentage on faster hard courts.

If Tsitsipas needs to exploit anything, it’s Nadal’s inability to impose his will and seize the initiative with his service return. Serves will run up on the Spaniard quicker, neutralizing his ground strokes, even if only for a single shot. It’s a very small window of opportunity for Tsitsipas and he’ll need to be as focused as possible. Riding his momentum in form should help but as they say in football, food is temporary but class is permanent.

Our prediction: Nadal in four.

WORDS: Marc Landas

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons; Screenshot from atptour.com

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