Stefanos Tsitsipas bounced back after dropping an epic 22-minute second-set tie-break to Ugo Humbert – letting five match points slip by – and raised his level to win 6-3, 6-7(13), 6-1 on Tuesday at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers.
The newly minted World No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings has been in red-hot form all year, and arrived in Toronto with the most victories on the ATP Tour in 2021 with 42. He added to that count as he claimed his first victory over the 22-year-old Frenchman, improving to 1-2 in their ATP Head2Head.
The victory also earned Tsitsipas a dose of revenge over Humbert, the player who defeated him in both their previous meetings – including knocking him out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Round of 16 last month.
"It's all about the fighting spirit," Tsitsipas said. "I'm someone who doesn't like to give up... It wasn't easy out there today. I had to do a lot. I put a lot of effort into stepping it up and to be my best today."
Tsitsipas moved into the third round, where he will await the winner of 15th seed Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov. Khachanov took down Cameron Norrie 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 on Tuesday to ensure the all-Russian clash.
The third seed was strong on serve as he raced out of the blocks against the Halle champion Humbert, keeping him under pressure on serve. He created seven break points in the opening set and converted at 4-3 after a double fault. He continued his momentum in the second set, charging ahead to a late break to take a 5-3 lead.
But just as the Greek player was serving for the match, a shaky service game opened the door for Humbert, and the Frenchman gladly muscled through to level the score at 5-5. Humbert hit a purple patch at just the right time, out-rallying Tsitsipas from the back of the court and hitting outrageous winners off both wings.
Both players wrestled for the momentum as the second set went into a tie-break, each having ample opportunities to take the deciding tilt. Tsitsipas created five match points, but Humbert showed his grit to save them all as he forced errors out of the Tsitsipas racquet. He needed four set points of his own to close out the marathon 22-minute tie-break and win the second set.
After such a titanic effort, a letdown seemed inevitable and Tsitsipas was quick to capitalise as his opponent struggled to hit through the court. The Greek player won five unanswered games and served out the contest on his seventh opportunity to win in two hours and 36 minutes.
"I took a break, I went to refresh myself. I kind of put it behind," Tsitsipas said of how he mentally re-set ahead of the third set. "I didn't want to think about it. Whatever happened happened, and I don't want anything to affect me. I don't want anything to get inside my head. I just showed incredible mental balance and mental strength to overcome this difficult tie-break that I just experienced... I still had high hopes that I could pull something good off."
Tsitsipas is seeking his third title of the year in Toronto, after clinching his first ATP Masters 1000 crown at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and lifting the trophy in Lyon.
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Elsewhere in Toronto, sixth seed Casper Ruud extended his winning streak to 12 matches with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Marin Cilic. The Norwegian turned heads in recent weeks with dominant performances to win three ATP 250 titles in consecutive weeks in Bastad, Gstaad and Kitzbuhel.
Ruud showed no signs of slowing down on hard courts, battling for two hours and five minutes against Cilic in a rain-interrupted second-round clash. The sixth seed won 87 per cent (39/45) of points behind his first serve and converted two of three break opportunities to advance. He awaits the winner of ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and Dusan Lajovic in the next round.
Reilly Opelka backed up his big win over Nick Kyrgios with another confident victory as he took down 14th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-4. The big-serving American kept the points short against Dimitrov, who has not won back-to-back matches since April. Opelka fired 22 winners, including 12 aces, and won 81 per cent (22/27) of points behind his first serve.
Opelka awaits the winner of Lloyd Harris and lucky loser Feliciano Lopez, who replaced Rafael Nadal in the draw (left foot injury). The American downplayed talk that Nadal's absence was a boost for him. "It's not much of an opening. Lloyd Harris beat Rafa last week in Washington. Everyone here is good," Opelka said.