PARIS — Stefanos Tsitsipas already had given away all of a two-set lead in his French Open semifinal when he double-faulted to trail love-40 in the opening game of the fifth.
Get broken there, and Friday’s match might completely slip from his grasp.
Tsitsipas steeled himself to win five consecutive points, including one with a cross-court forehand passing shot he celebrated by shaking his racket as the crowd chanted his last name. That hold pushed Tsitsipas back in the right direction and into his first Grand Slam final, thanks to a late surge that produced a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Alexander Zverev.
“I’m someone who fights. I was not willing to give up yet. I think I did few things right that worked in my favor,” said the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas, who entered the day 0-3 in major semifinals.
“It was a breath of fresh air, that first game,” he said. “I felt revitalized.”
Tsitsipas broke to go up 3-1 with plenty of help from Zverev, who double-faulted, then missed a backhand, followed by a forehand and another backhand. Zverev winced and Tsitsipas raised his right fist. Eventually, Tsitsipas served out the biggest win of his career, ending it after more than 3 1/2 hours on his fifth match point.
“It was a match full of emotions, full of so many different phases that I went through,” said Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece. “So at the end, it was just such a big relief I was able to close it in such a good way. It was just exhausting.”
He is the youngest man in the French Open final since Rafael Nadal won the 2008 title shortly after his 22nd birthday.
On Sunday, Tsitsipas will face 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal or top-seeded Novak Djokovic for the trophy on the red clay. Nadal and Djokovic faced each other for the 58th time later Friday.
Tsitsipas regained control of his semifinal on a cloudy afternoon in the late going thanks to a combination of more solid returning by him and a succession of groundstroke unforced errors from the sixth-seeded Zverev, a 24-year-old from Germany.
“I started to play proper tennis in the third set. Against someone like Stefanos, it might be too late,” said Zverev, the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up. “If I break him the first game of the fifth set, maybe the outcome would be different.”
This is not some out-of-nowhere ascension for Tsitsipas. He has been building toward this over the past couple of seasons, reaching three major semifinals in a row and leading the ATP in total match wins (39 now) and clay-court wins (22) in 2021.
Three of his seven career tour-level titles came on clay, including a pair this year – at the Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon.
Zverev’s loss makes him 0-10 against members of the Top 10 at Grand Slam tournaments, an especially confounding statistic when viewed in contrast to his 31-30 mark against such opponents in any other setting.
“I’m not at a stage anymore where great matches are something that I’m satisfied with,” Zverev said. “I lost. I’m not in the final. Was it a good match? Yeah. But at the end of the day, I’m going to fly home tomorrow. There’s nothing positive about that.”
He hadn’t faced a seeded player en route to the semifinals, including two matches against qualifiers and a quarterfinal victory over 46th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Tsitsipas, meanwhile, was a facing a fourth consecutive seeded foe, after wins over No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, No. 12 c and No. 31 John Isner.
Speaking before the Nadal-Djokovic semifinal was over, Tsitsipas looked ahead to facing a fifth seeded opponent over these two weeks.
“Both of them, it will have to be physical. Both of them, attention to detail, full concentration,” Tsitsipas said. “There isn’t much difference between those two.”