Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal continue steady progress at Australian Open

If Roger Federer needs advice on how to handle one of the game’s emerging talents he need only ask his long-time friend and rival Rafael Nadal. 

Federer, who beat Taylor Fritz 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 here in the third round of the Australian Open, next faces 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will be hoping for more success than 19-year-old Alex de Minaur when he takes on the Swiss in the first match of Friday’s evening session. De Minaur was outclassed by Nadal, who crushed the Australian 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Facing a player from the home nation is usually just about the only occasion when Federer is not the crowd favourite, but the 37-year-old is likely to find the majority of the more vocal supporters backing his opponent on Sunday. About 175,000 people of Greek origin live in Melbourne – which is more than any other city in the world outside of Greece – and some of them made it into the Melbourne Arena as Tsitsipas beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 on Friday.

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“They give a nice atmosphere, energy on the court,” Tsitsipas said afterwards. “I appreciate what they do. They really want it as bad as me.”

Tsitsipas was handed two code violations for unsportsmanlike conduct when he had to replay a point following an over-rule by the umpire. The world No 15 was not happy and admitted afterwards that he had said “some really bad things” in his native language on the court.


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“I didn’t quite think what I was saying,” Tsitsipas said. “I wish I could change that and hadn’t said that. It’s not the right attitude.”

Federer said he found Tsitsipas a little timid and did not speak much off the court. “I do all the talking on the court,” Tsitsipas responded with a smile. “I was shy when I was a kid, but not any more. I learn to find my comfort when I’m with people. I think I’m comfortable meeting new people and having a discussion with someone.

“Not many of the players want to be friends on the tour. That’s a problem. That’s an issue, unless you speak the same language. That’s why you see all these Spaniards and Latin Americans hanging out with each other. Then you have, I don’t know, Asian people with each other. So that makes sense. That’s why I’m very good friends with Marcos [Baghdatis]. He understands me. I understand him.”

Tsitsipas, who is based at Patrick Mouratoglou’s academy in the south of France, hopes that his success might persuade more Greek children to take up tennis. 

“Greece doesn’t have the structure and unfortunately what it takes to create a player from such a small country,” he said. “But you have academies outside the country. You have some good places where you can go and train. I hope kids learn to play in Greece and then develop and bring their game to the next level by going abroad.”

Sunday’s match will come less than three weeks after Tsitsipas lost to Federer in the Hopman Cup in Perth, but the Greek said he had learned from that match. 

“I know the patterns that he’s using a bit better now,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be serving well, so in my return games I’ll need to be aggressive and press a lot. He’s a legend of our sport.”

Federer said he was looking forward to the match. “He’s playing so well,” Federer said. “I like how he mixes up his game and also comes to the net – and so will I. I think we will see some athletic attacking tennis being played.”

Nadal’s popularity around the world is similar to Federer’s and the Spaniard sensed that by no means all the crowd were against him in his crushing defeat of De Minaur, who in a very short space of time has become Australia’s best hope.  “Even playing against an Australian like Alex, I feel like the crowd — some part of the crowd — is with me,” Nadal said afterwards.

De Minaur began last year ranked outside the world’s top 200 but is now up to No 29 and has already won the first ATP title of his career. The teenager’s victory in the Sydney International last week and his efforts here, including a second-round victory over Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen which took nearly four hours, appeared to take their toll as Nadal had him on the back foot from the start.

Meeting an Australian for the third round in a row, Nadal hit 37 winners and dropped only 12 points on his first serve, though De Minaur gave plenty of demonstrations of his undoubted talent.

That was particularly evident in the final game of the match as De Minaur defended Nadal’s third, fourth and fifth match points. On the third the Australian switched from defence to attack to win a thrilling 24-shot rally, on the fourth he clubbed an excellent forehand pass winner and on the fifth he struck another winning forehand. On the sixth, nevertheless, his forehand flew beyond the baseline.

Nadal now faces a familiar foe in Tomas Berdych, who continued his successful comeback following a six-month break with a back problem. The 33-year-old Czech, who has lost 19 of his 23 meetings with Nadal, beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. It was his second victory over a seed this week following his win over Britain’s Kyle Edmund in the first round.

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