The 2022 tennis season proved a rather strange one.
A season which started in January with Novak Djokovic getting sensationally expelled from the Australian Open. Women’s #1 Ash Barty retired completely out of the blue. Alexander Zverev was disqualified for cursing out an umpire and repeatedly smashing his chair with his racquet in the Mexican Open. And Russian and Belarussian players were banned from Wimbledon for the war in Ukraine, with the ATP and WTA tour awarding no points for the competition in retaliation. Oh yes, plus Roger Federer and Serena Williams officially retired.
Whilst these events undeniably put tennis on front page news, there were some great moments too. At 19 years old, Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest ever ATP #1 after winning the US Open. Iga Swiatek took Barty’s place as World #1 and completely dominated the WTA Tour. And Novak Djokovic equalled Roger Federer’s record after winning the ATP Finals.
One man who would love to be in the headlines is Greek Top 10 player Stefanos Tsitsipas. But for now, Tsitsipas is only making headlines news in tennis publications, which is not what Tsitsipas wants. He wants to be the man to make headlines beyond tennis, becoming a major sporting icon like his idols.
However, Tsitsipas is going about this the wrong way, not making many friends with his pronouncements. After his seemingly upward trajectory from 2018 to 2020, things started to go wrong in 2021. Well, go wrong in spectacular fashion. Tsitsipas found himself two sets up against the mighty Novak Djokovic in the French Open final and set for destiny. Destiny of being feted as a grand slam champion and great player. Sadly for Tsitsipas, he was not able to see the job through and Djokovic came roaring back, claiming the next three sets to take the title. Tsitsipas has not being the same player since that moment.
Rather than use the defeat as motivation, Tsitsipas ran into more difficulties. As the summer of 2021 unfolded with the American hard court swing, Tsitsipas started taking long bathroom breaks during matches. This got to a head in Cincinnati where breaks upwards of ten minutes were greeted with howls of derision each time he returned to the court. Tsitsipas even argued with an umpire that he was allowed to go to the bathroom during a set! Not reading the room, so to speak, Tsitsipas continued this practice at the US Open. Reaping the wrath of the crowd and opponent Andy Murray in their 2nd round encounter. Tsitsipas eventually lost to Carlos Alcaraz in the 3rd round.
This bad publicity should have been a wakeup call for Tsitsipas, who needs the support of the crowd. However, things went the other way and perhaps Tsitsipas’ true colours were coming out. His nemesis Daniil Medvedev won the US Open in September 2021, the first of the “Next Gen” to win a major. Far from congratulating Medvedev, Tsitsipas made this comment on Greek television later that month. “It surprises me that, with that kind of tennis, he manages to achieve what he has achieved.” Tsitsipas called Medvedev’s game “one dimensional,” but also said he proved to be the best player at the particular moment.
It was a surprisingly frank from a professional player, which you do not expect in the age of bland statements. On one hand you have to credit Tsitsipas for being so honest in his view. On the other hand, it is probably not advisable for a player who is yet to win anything truly significant. (other than the 2019 World Tour final).
2022 has not seen an improvement in Tsitsipas’ attitude towards his fellow professionals. For instance, Tsitsipas went into the Cincinnati final as heavy favorite against Croatian Borna Coric. Coric was coming back from months out with serious injury and was lowly ranked. Despite a strong start in the final Tsitsipas contrived to lose the match in straight sets. Tsitsipas became rattled and at one stage looked to be tanking. This defeat left Tsitsipas still without an outdoor hardcourt title. In the trophy presentation, Tsitsipas joked about losing to “robots,” which did not hit the mark. It reeked of sour grapes. Tsitsipas unable to deal with the pressure of being favourite.
This air of perceived superiority continues to follow Tsitsipas. Andrey Rublev denied Tsitsipas a semifinal place in the ATP Finals in Turin after a stirring comeback; Tsitsipas went into the press conference and stated that the better player lost. In fact, Tsistipas said “It’s a shame. I feel like the better player,” “But, yeah, he prevailed with the few tools that he has. He was able to really take advantage of them and win today.” Needless to say, Rublev was not best pleased when the journalists told him what Tsitsipas said. Rublev handled the situation well.
Nonetheless, this is poor stuff from Tsitsipas which is now proving to be a recurring theme. Tsitsipas clearly believes he is a better player than most of his Top 10 peers and yet is unable to prove it where it matters, on the tennis court.
What baffles me about Tsitsipas’ attitude is that he has a lot of technical flaws. His backhand needs serious improvement, he shanks the ball way too often and his serve can improve considerably. Plus his volleys can also improve. I discussed this last year in my article “Crossroads for Stefanos Tsitsipas,” Where I argued it is time for a full time coach away from his parents. Since then his career has regressed. Tsitsipas did hire Thomas Enqvist briefly and now has Mark Philippoussis in his corner. But his parents are still there, and it is too often a psychodrama and not enough about the tennis.
Tsitsipas’ idols Roger Federer and Pete Sampras (whose games he tries to emulate) were not in the habit of criticising opponents they lost to in after match press conferences. They proved it on the court, showing they were the best in their time against all comers. Tsitsipas sees himself walking in their shoes. But it could be he does not possess the raw talent of Sampras and Federer, which they honed for winning.
Tsitsipas currently is going through delusions of grandeur. Tennis fans who love the one hand backhand want to see players like Tsitsipas get to the top. Tsitsipas will be well advised to go back to basics. Be more humble, work on his mind and technique, and hire a full time coach. This will be the way for Tsitsipas to realise his potential and win a grand slam tournament in the next 24 months.
Main Photo from Getty.