Every time a youngster breaks the barriers of men’s tennis, it appears as a breath of fresh air in the tennis community. It’s even fresher when a teenager achieves something to make a name for himself. Tennis is a sport largely dominated by Europeans, but Greece never quite had their fair share of success on the men’s tour. Their best players could never enter the top 100. For them, to have someone make headlines with his tennis, has been pretty special. And understandably so, Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 19-year-old who grew out of his teen age on Sunday, appeared as a Greek God in Canada.
The NextGen inspiration
Last year, the Rogers Cup was special for tennis’ young brigade. Alexander Zverev won the entire tournament to prove that his Rome Masters title wasn’t a one-off. But what really took the tennis world by storm was Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov’s meteoric rise. His miraculous wins over tour giants Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal to reach the semifinals at just eighteen years of age caught everyone’s attention. It caught Tsitsipas’ attention, too. Just a year ago, in Wimbledon boys’ doubles, he had won the title, beating Shapovalov. And here he was – losing all the ATP main draw matches that he had played, while Shapovalov was creating a ruckus.
Something changed in Stefanos Tsitsipas. Shapovalov’s results served as a big inspiration. By his own admission, “It inspired me so much. I was dreaming of being in his place. To me, it seemed like completely out of any world that he was doing on the court.” And here he was – working with more vigor than ever to present himself in front of the world. One year later, Tsitsipas went one better than Shapovalov, becoming the youngest player ever to beat four top-10 players in a row, and the 21st teenager to make a Masters 1000 (or equivalent) final. Following his incredible run, Tsitsipas has suddenly become the second most promising NextGen youngster after Zverev. Few will want to bet against him succeeding even more in the near future.
Familiar territories and a steady head
Like many youngsters, Stefanos Tsitsipas’ career has been birthed and greatly molded by his parents. His mother Yulia, a former Russian tennis pro and father Apostolos – both coaches in the resort next to their house in Greece – have worked hard to build his game. But more importantly, they give him enough space to mature and have his own thoughts on his improvement. It is debatable if being in a tennis-environment helped his game, but, there’s little doubt that it helped him have a sharp tennis brain.
The last twelve months have seen an impressive run from the Greek, rising from 168th in the rankings to 15th, following his Toronto exploits. What stood out, is his surprising maturity at such an early age. Beating four top-10 players in consecutive matches is a feat that has very rarely happened. Let alone by a teenager. It wouldn’t have happened for Tsitsipas either, until his resilience delivered. Beating Dominic Thiem was great, beating Novak Djokovic was even better, albeit Djokovic wasn’t close to playing his best. But, the comeback win against defending champion and a red-hot Zverev propelled him to a bigger stardom, followed by another comeback win against Kevin Anderson. He saved 4 match points in the tournament to reach the final. He did lose to Nadal 2-6 6-7(4) on his 20th birthday yesterday, but not without showing what he can do with more experience.
The quote what he wrote on the camera screen after his semifinal win against Anderson, “It never gets easier. You just get better”, belies his age. To have that kind of maturity requires an extremely calm head that doesn’t crumble under pressure. And Tsitsipas showed that he doesn’t.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, a new kid on the block
Stefanos Tsitsipas’ game needs some definite improvement. He’s new. He’s still a kid in terms of experience. And hence, his game isn’t well-furnished. Some of his shots do produce some artistic moments, especially from the single-handed backhand, which asks for an inevitable comparison with Federer. Yet, it’s the hard-hitting capability needed to succeed in modern tennis that’s lacking. His serve doesn’t always appear the most convincing, either. In Toronto, the difference in his first and second serve speeds often crossed an unbelievable 100-kilometer mark!
He is born on August 12, and much like his birthday counterpart, a certain Pete Sampras, Tsitsipas doesn’t back away from attacking the net. Unlike what most would expect from a 20-year old playing with equipment suitable for heavy-hitting tennis. It’ll be interesting to see which route he takes when he matures enough and builds his game completely.
Quite reasonably, Tsitsipas’ immediate aim will be a fine run at the US Open, followed by a 2nd-place finish at the Race To Milan for the NextGen Finals (Zverev already has the top spot licked up, basically). But regardless of where he stands at the end of 2018, one thing is certain. His rise in Canada put an end to a question the tennis community wanted an answer of. The youngsters are coming! After a relative lull where there was a dearth of teen talents, ATP has been blessed with exciting youngsters making a name for themselves. And as for the Greeks, after years of waiting, they finally have a possible future star from their country. Yes, Stefanos Tsitsipas appeared as a Greek God in Canada. And will be eager to be the Greek God of men’s tennis. And, there’s little to worry for. Having tasted success, he’s admitted that the hunger has only grown. There’s no backing down.
Main Photo via Getty