Young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas is set to play his childhood idol, Roger Federer, for the first time at the Australian Open tonight.
Up until now, Tsitsipas has only faced the Swiss player in the relaxed atmosphere of the Hopman Cup, but he is about to find out just how aggressive the real Federer can be.
It’s a match that fraught with symbolism to the 20-year-old player who has grown up in awe of Federer, so much so that his signature one-handed backhand, a rarity in modern tennis, was chosen due to the influence his parents and Federer had over him. He remembers watching Federer beat the likes of Djokovic and Rafael Nada.
After completing his dramatic victory over Basilashvili, it dawned on Tsitsipas that the moment had arrived when he would clash with Federer, the tennis giant he has been watching his entire life. “If I thought about it now it’s insane I’m in this position where I can actually play him,” Tsitsipas said on Friday in the post-match press conference.
“It’s really emotional. It’s not easy to play these kind of players that you’ve been watching for so long and you finally get to play them. Mentally, for players to beat him, they have to be ready and believe in themselves that they are, their game is great enough to beat such a player.”
“He’s serving really well, so I’m going to have to utilise this and take advantage of as many returns as possible.”
Federer has just defeated one youngster, 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, and is preparing to dispatch Tsitsipas. The 37-year-old said: “We all want them to win all the big stuff, but it just takes time. I’m still giving them a hard time, sometimes.”
If Tsitsipas wins, he will topple his childhood idol and climb up from his ranking as Top 15. If third seed Federer wins, he could be the oldest man to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.