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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, October 5, 2020

A swath of red clay covered the back of Stefanos Tsitsipas’ black shirt leaving him looking like a man who spent a couple of hours mud wrestling.

Clay-court tennis can require combatants to get down-and-dirty— especially playing for major milestones.

More: Roland Garros By the Numbers 

Tsitsipas played clean and convincing under pressure erasing two set points in a 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-2 triumph over Grigor Dimitrov pinning down his first Roland Garros quarterfinal appearance.

The fifth-seeded Tsitsipas made history as the first Greek man to reach the French Open quarterfinals and will next confront recent history. Tsitsipas’ triumph sets up a blockbuster rematch vs. Andrey Rublev.

The gritty Rublev rallied from a set and a break down battling by Marton Fucsovics 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(3) into his second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal.

The red-hot Russian scored his ninth straight win, raising his 2020 record to 29-6—second to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic for most wins on the ATP Tour.

It was Rublev’s first win in three meetings with Fucsovics, who belted 61 winners—17 more than his Russian opponent. Rublev caught fire in the fourth-set tiebreaker ripping four winners for a 5-1 lead before closing a three-hour, 54-minute victory.

Eight days ago, Rublev repelled Tsitsipas in the Hamburg final 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 claiming his third title of the season.

Two of tennis’ most exciting young stars will meet with a trip to their first French Open semifinals on the line.

"Both of us had tough, tough week in Hamburg, tough final," Rublev said. "Then both of us was down in the first round with two sets to love. Both of us come back.

"Now we are here and we're going to play each other in quarters. It's like a nice press story of the match. I hope it's going to be interesting. I hope we're going to show a good level, good match, and I hope people will enjoy."

Tsitsipas is hoping for a different outcome.

"Well, Andrey, we grew up playing together," Tsitsipas said. "He has improved a lot. We've played each other many times. I think he has a positive record against me.

"Going inside that match in two days, it is very important for me to take this opportunity and fight harder this time, maybe do something better... He's a tough cookie."

The 2014 Roland Garros boys' champion Rublev was a pure power hitter as a junior and has now developed into a more complete player.

"I would say at that time I was not even a player," Rublev said. "I was doing stupid things on court, off court.

"But I really loved tennis. I was working really hard when I was kid. But I didn't understand at that moment what tennis is. I didn't understand what you need to do on court, what you need to do out of court. I was just hitting, practicing, hitting, because I love it, but without any thinking how to play, what you need to do, how to defend and all these little details. I didn't even know how it works."

Five-set wins require players to figure it out. This quarterfinal collision was launched by a pair of opening-round comebacks

. Rublev looked down and out in the French Open first round when Sam Querrey served for the match before the red-haired Russian unleashed his fire and desire rallying for a 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-4 6-3.

Tennis Express

It was the rangy Rublev’s first career comeback from two sets down.

Tsitsipas has shown major resilience reasserting his competitive character in a powerful Paris performance.

The 22-year-old Greek suffered an agonizing US Open loss squandering six match points in losing to Borna Coric last month, bowed to talented teenager Jannik Sinner in Rome than reached the Hamburg final falling to Rublev 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Combine those near misses with the scar tissue Tsitsipas face turning to Roland Garros a year after falling to Stan Wawrinka 6-7, 7-5 ,4-6, 6-3 6-8 in the round of 16 and you have a psychological study in responding to tennis trauma.

Since going down two sets to Jaume Munar in his opener last week, Tsitsipas found his emotional sparking surging back for a 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 6-4 and has now stormed through 11 straight sets into his first final eight appearance in Paris.

Facing 2019 US Open semifinalist Dimitrov today, Tsitsipas was better on pivotal points saving all three break points he faced and winning 12 of 19 trips to net.

The turning point came in the second set tie breaker.

In a crackling 19-shot rally, a determined Dimitrov saved set point flicking a backhand down the line off the baseline to level 6-6.

The Bulgarian banged another backhand off the baseline saving a second set point and when Tsitsipas sailed a forehand Dimitrov held set point at 8-7 only to net a slice backhand.

The 18th-seeded Dimitrov gained a second set point but narrowly missed a forehand wide. Staying aggressive throughout the stress test, Tsitsipas fired a forehand crosscourt for his third set point. And when Dimitrov netted a short forehand, Tsitsipas had a two-set lead in hand.

Tsitsipas broke in the Bulgarian’s first and last service games of the third set to streak into the quarterfinals in two hours, 26 minutes. 

The 22-year-old Rublev has won two of three meetings vs. Tsitsipas, including both of their Grand Slam matches. the angular Greek suggests he'll try to use his all-court game and net skills to turn the tables on their tight Hamburg final in a quarterfinal that could played beneath the closed roof over Court Philippe Chatrier if the drizzle continues.

"He's going to be difficult to play against," Tsitsipas said. "He has a very complete, solid game from all the departments. He has improved a lot his serve. He relies a lot on his power. He has very powerful shots. We share a similar game style, I would say. Mine would probably be more like coming to the net, using a bit more the angles.

"He's a very challenging player to play against. I think he for sure brings the best out of me when I step out on the court to play against him."


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