Stefanos Tsitsipas is playing for a double prize this fortnight at the Australian Open. The Greek certainly started his campaign like a man on a mission on Monday at Melbourne Park, where he eased past Quentin Halys 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(6) to reach the second round.

Prior to the tournament, the Greek had spoken about his desire to carry the impressive form he showed at the United Cup, where he went 4-0 during Team Greece’s run to the semi-finals at the mixed-teams event, into the first Grand Slam of the 2023 season. The 24-year-old did just that, delivering a highly aggressive and largely consistent performance — and holding off a third-set resurgence from Halys — to seal victory in exactly two hours.

The 24-year-old Tsitsipas, who reached the semi-finals at the opening Grand Slam of the season in 2019, 2021 and 2022, is chasing his maiden major crown this fortnight. Should the third seed go all the way in Melbourne, he would also overtake the injured Carlos Alcaraz to become No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time. He will meet home wild card Rinky Hijikata, who battled back to beat Yannick Hanfmann 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3, in the second round.

“It was challenging,” acknowledged Tsitsipas after saving four set points in the third set before completing the win. “He came up with some good tennis towards the end of the third set. I kind of lost my rhythm on the serve. I wasn’t expecting to get broken twice, so I had to find ways to kind of get out of there, this difficult situation.

“I think my fighting spirit showed that towards the end. I wasn’t going to give up and even though I faced difficult situations in the tie-break, being down in the score, I got some good crowd support and we came back and won this together.”

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Although it was the pair’s maiden ATP Head2Head meeting, Halys had defeated Tsitsipas twice before — in an ITF Futures match in 2014 and an ATP Challenger Tour match in 2018. A barnstorming start from the Greek severely reduced the chances of a third Halys victory in row, however, as the World No.4 deployed his serve and forehand to good effect en route to taking a commanding two-sets-to-love lead without facing a break point.

Halys came into the match at a career-high No. 64 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and pushed Novak Djokovic to two tie-breaks in Adelaide two weeks ago. Djokovic had later described the Frenchman as playing ‘like a Top 10 opponent’, and he belatedly showed some of that form in the third set as he began to apply some pressure to the Tsitsipas delivery.

From 0-2, Halys reeled off four games in a row with some imaginative all-court tennis to drag himself back into the contest. A pair of double faults in the seventh game cost him the break lead, but he then made Tsitsipas fend off four set points in a tense 12th game to force a tie-break.

The Frenchman again had his chances in the tie-break, opening an early 4/2 lead, but Tsitsipas found his big-stage quality when he needed it most. Frequently dictating play with his forehand, he ultimately converted his second match point to seal a victory in which he struck 46 winners, including 17 aces.

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