Stefanos Tsitsipas is on a six-match winning streak, but has lost his last two matches against Jan-Lennard Struff, his opponent in Thursday’s ATP Dubai quarterfinals.
Tsitsipas vs Struff is live from Dubai on Thursday 27 February at 5pm local/1pm GMT
After winning only three of his first eight matches of 2020, going 1-2 at the ATP Cup, losing in the third round of the Australian Open and going out in the second round in Rotterdam, Tsitsipas suddenly turned things around when he headed to Marseille last week to defend his title.
The 2019 champion looked a lot more like the player who won the Nitto ATP Finals at the end of 2019 as he defended his Open 13 Provence title without dropping a set in wins over Mikael Ymer, the in-form Vasek Pospisil, Alexander Bublik and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is now 0-5 in ATP finals.
With a first-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta, who has been playing some good tennis of late, and a tough indoors/outdoors transition to make (as well as a literal journey from Marseille to Dubai), I thought Tsitsipas might make an early exit from the 500-level tournament. But so far he has handled the challenge of playing in such different conditions in back-to-back weeks as well as he did in 2019, when he followed his Marseille title by reaching the final in Dubai, finishing runner-up to Roger Federer.
Tsitsipas kept up his momentum as he scored his second straight-sets win in as many weeks over Bublik on Wednesday. Unlike in Marseille, Bublik managed to push the first set to a tie-break, saving two set points at 5-6 to do so. But Tsitsipas’s concentration and composure against an opponent whose trademark is his unpredictability (along with his big serve) was impeccable as he played an excellent tie-break and dominated the second set for a 7-6(1), 6-4 victory.
Afterwards, the world no. 6 said:
‘Things were going quite well, although we reached the tie-break in the first set.
‘I knew I needed to serve well and takes risks, which gave me confidence. I experimented a little bit with other things in the second set. I’m trying to save as much energy as I can on court. I’ve had two two-sets wins this week and I need to keep the right attitude on the court.’
If Tsitsipas is looking for a role model to follow in terms of energy conservation, he could do worse than look to his opponent in Thursday’s quarterfinals, Jan-Lennard Struff.
The German took just 39 minutes to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-0, losing only one point behind his first serve and six points on serve total.
Coupled with a 7-6(2), 7-5 win over fifth seed and 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round, that’s some impressive form for Struff, who has been playing some of his best tennis over the past year or so – he is currently just one place below his career-high ranking of world no. 33, achieved last July – but not really shone so far in 2020.
Struff made the fourth rounds of Indian Wells and Roland Garros and was a semifinalist in Auckland and Stuttgart in 2019. So far in 2020, he’s gone 2-1 at the ATP Cup (with a win over Auger-Aliassime), had the misfortune to face Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Australian Open (he took a set and played very well to do so) and lost early in Adelaide and Rotterdam.
The German has now won back-to-back matches in Dubai for the first time in four appearances – and as he looks to make his first semifinal of 2020, he can take a lot of confidence from his record against Tsitsipas. The head-to-head stands at 2-2, but it’s the two most recent matches that Struff won, beating Tsitsipas in Barcelona and at the Cincinnati Masters in 2019.
Both matches went to three sets, with the Cincinnati match settled in three tie-breaks, and the match against Bublik should stand Tsitsipas in good stead to confront Struff, whose game is built around his big serve but is a bit less unconventional than Bublik. Tsitsipas is on fine form, while Basilashvili’s poor performance might have flattered Struff in the scoreline a bit; it should be very close in this Dubai quarterfinal.