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Greek streak

Ian Suyu

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STEFANOS Tsitsipas shows why he is one of the world’s best tennis players.    photograph by RIO DELUVIO

Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas delivered a dazzling display of tennis prowess as he clobbered Filipino rising star AJ Lim, 6-2, 6-1, in the opening match of the Davis Cup World Group II playoff tie Friday at the Philippine Columbian Association tennis court in Manila.

Not long after Tsitsipas massive victory, his younger brother — Petros — followed suit, winning over Jeson Patrombon, 6-2, 6-1, to give the taller, stronger and more experienced Greek squad a 2-0 edge entering their doubles and reverse singles matches on Saturday.

Francis Casey Alcantara and Ruben Gonzales, the tandem that clinched the gold medal in the men’s doubles event of the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year, will represent the home squad against the tandem of Petros and Markos Kalovelonis.

The reverse singles, meanwhile, pits Tsitsipas against Patrombon and Petros against Lim later in the day.

Still, it was the victory of Tsitsipas that set the tone for the Greek domination.

Coming in as one of the world’s best tennis players outside the “Big Three” of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the 6-foot-5 Tsitsipas easily overwhelmed the 5-foot-7 Lim. He quickly won the first three games to capture the first set, 6-2, and dictate the tempo the rest of the way.

But for the humble Greek, it wasn’t as lopsided as the scores dictate.

“Actually, it wasn’t an easy win for me. I knew that, deep inside, I needed to work for the points. It was a mental game. You have to work for it and not wait for easy points,” said Tsitsipas, who is at No. 6 in the latest ranking of the Association of Tennis Professionals.

He added that the humid Manila weather as well as the slow clay-shell surface nearly doomed his chances.

He, however, kept his composure and gamely challenged the unheralded home bet to a battle of grit, will and determination.

“It was difficult. It feels like a sauna in there,” said the 21-year-old Greek star who has been a perennial contender in the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open and nearly pulled off an upset of Djokovic in the Dubai Championship last week.

“I’m not really used to competing in conditions like this. This is now what we have in Greece or any other places I’ve played before.”

“I think you saw crazy bounces in the court, which I haven’t seen for a very long time. Some kick serves were jumping over his (Lim) head, which was quite unusual.”

Knowing the massive disparity on their skill level, Lim poured his heart out to climb in two games of the first set, 2-5, before the Greek star stepped on the gas and coasted to an easy win.

It wasn’t the first time for Lim to face Tsitsipas.

They already clashed in a junior doubles event of the Metropolia Orange Bowl International Championships in Florida in 2016. But less than three years later, the Greek blossomed into one of the world’s best tennis players while Lim settled for the bronze medal in the men’s single of the SEA Games.

“It was really a great experience to compete against the world’s No. 6 player. I tried to give him good shots, but I just couldn’t get the win for the team,” said Lim, who obviously had a tough time matching the speed, power and superb ground game of Tsitsipas.

He said stepping on the same court with Tsitsipas is already an achievement in itself.

“I did not want to settle for scores of 6-0, 6-0 so I tried to aim for more. I was really happy to win some games. It’s not every day that you get a chance to play against this kind of player,” the 20-year-old Filipino said.

“I knew that it was going to be really, really hard to win a game over him. He was just unreal. He’s obviously really good. He won’t be No. 6 in the world for no reason. All I know is that I did my best.”

Lim said his setback serves as a lesson to the local bets heading into the penultimate day on Saturday.

“I have so many things to improve and work on. Although I haven’t have my world ranking, I am proud representing the country, especially in our home turf.”

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