Son of a Greek dad and Russian mom, Stefano Tsitsipas started to play tennis when he was three. His dad was a trained tennis coach and mom a former junior world number 1. Tsitsipas too became a junior world number 1 like his mom.
Would he climb the next step on the ladder, the more difficult one, the transition from junior to senior tennis? That was the big question.
Odds seem to be stacked against Stefano. Greece is not known to be a tennis playing country. No male player from Greece had reached the top 20 of the world and among lady players only Elini Danilidou had reached a high of world Number 14. She did win 5 WTA titles and at Grand Slams had 4th round appearances at 3 of the 4 Majors. Her crowning glory was a 1st round win over Justine Henin in the 2005 Wimbledon where for the 1st time, current French Open champion lost in the 1st round of Wimbledon.
Tsitsipas did win a Junior Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon to be the 1st Greek player in the open era to win a Grand Slam title. In the pre-Open era Nicky Kalo had won the Junior French Open and Junior Wimbledon in 1962. However he could not crack the world top 100, with a highest ranking of 108. In Grand Slams his best performances were reaching the 4th round of Wimbledon once and French Open Third Round thrice.
History therefore was not in Tsitsipas favour and he had to carve out his own route to the top. Let’s see how he went about it.
After playing the Challenger series from 2013 to 2017, his 1st main ATP tournament was at the 2017 Rotterdam tournament where he lost in the 1st round to eventual champion Tsonga. He was already being spoken about as a talented teen star. His 1st win in an ATP match was over the equally talented Karen Khachanov in the 2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters. Tsitsipas was unlucky, however, to run into the big serving John Isner in the next round, to whom he lost 6-7, 6-7. However, the fact that both sets were tiebreaks was not lost upon the tennis community. Tsitsipas then reached the semi finals of the European open an ATP 250 tournament where he defeated Goffin, who was his 1st top ten win. Who knew, many more would come within months.
2018 saw his 1st breakthrough at the Barcelona Open. In an incredible tournament for the teen, he had straight set one sided wins over more fancied players. The margin of wins was impressive as well. Corentin Moupet had defeated him in a Challenger final in 2017 and Tsitsipas disposed of him 6-4 6-1 in the 1st round. He then won against accomplished players like Diego Schwartzmann 6-2 6-1, A Ramos Vinolas 6-4 7-5, Dominic Thiem 6-3 6-2 and Pablo Carrena Busta 7-5 6-3. In the final he lost to none other than Rafa Nadal 6-2 6-1.
Showing steady promise, Tsitsipas then reached the 4th round of Wimbledon where Isner stopped him. He also reached the semifinals of the Washington Open. However the next spectacular achievement was at the 2018 Toronto Masters. A year ago he had been ranked 168. He ended Toronto Open at Number 15 after attempting to become the first player since Albert Portas at Hamburg in 2001 to win his first ATP World Tour title at a Masters 1000 event. Once again it was Nadal who stopped him, but Tsitsipas improved upon his Barcelona Open performance by losing in straight sets but at 6-4 7-6, and he even had a set point against his great opponent.
At Indian Wells in 2005, it was a teen Rafa against the world number 1. Now at Toronto it was Tsitsipas on his 20th Birthday against Rafa. Importantly he had 4 top ten wins to reach the final, that too against players of the calibre of Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Sascha Zverev and Kevin Anderson. No teen had done this before and Tsitsipas by doing so announced himself as a future Grand Slam contendor.
Unfortunately at Cincinnati this week, Tsitsipas lost in the 1st round to Goffin whom he had defeated in the quarter finals at Citi. He will rue missing 3 set points at 0-40, 4-5 on Goffin serve. This saw Goffin holding serve and then breaking to take the 1st set 7-5 and then running away with the second 6-3.
What next for Tsitsipas. The US Open will be only the second Grand Slam tournament where he will be seeded. Tsitsipas who says he has modelled his game on the great Roger Federer and consciously chose a one handed backhand like his idol has two weaknesses. One is the backhand itself and the second is a weak second serve and these two aspects need to be quickly addressed. Described as a young player, with the flair of Federer and the icy coolness of Borg Stefano is already the youngest player in the top 20. He promises to be that rare category of a tennis player- an all court star.
Will he win a Grand Glam soon? Will he be a multi Grand Slam winner?
Looking forward to a great career for young Stefano
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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