Stefanos Tsitsipas went from way ahead to suddenly stuck in a five-set struggle against Alexander Zverev at the French Open on Friday before emerging to earn his first berth in a Grand Slam final.
The fifth-seeded Tsitsipas entered with an 0-3 record in major semifinals and it seemed as if he might let this one slip away, too, until a late surge carried him to the 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory after more than 3 1/2 hours at Court Philippe Chatrier.
On Sunday, Tsitsipas will face 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal or top-seeded Novak Djokovic for the championship on the red clay.
Nadal and Djokovic were scheduled to face 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.
The fifth set began with a key service hold after Tsitsipas double-faulted to fall behind love-40. From there, he won five consecutive points, including one with a cross-court forehand passing winner that he celebrated by shaking his racket as the crowd chanted, “Tsi-tsi-pas! Tsi-tsi-pas! Tsi-tsi-pas!”
Then 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.
Fifteen minutes later, Tsitsipas earned his first match point, and while he needed five of them to close the proceedings, he eventually did convert one with an ace.
Tsitsipas will be the first player from Greece in a Grand Slam singles final and youngest man to appear in the title match at the French Open since Nadal won the 2008 championship five days after his 22nd birthday.
And this is not some out-of-nowhere ascension. Tsitsipas 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.
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 Pablo Carreno Busta and No. 31 John Isner.