Greece's Tsitsipas is ready to take over the men's tour
  | By Brian Coleman
Photo Credit: USTA/Darren Carroll

 

“Don’t wait for opportunity. Create it.”

When you open up the official website of Stefanos Tsitsipas, that is the motto that greets you right away, and it has become the embodiment of the 22-year-old Greek star. He has done just that, creating his own opportunities, as he is already the greatest tennis player ever from his home nation, and has established himself as one of the best players in the world.

“I know it’s a great career I have, I’ve done some good things in tennis but obviously I’m just getting started with it and there is plenty of way to go and many more tournaments and opportunities for me to be given,” he told the Roland Garros website prior to the start of 2021.

Tennis is in Tsitsipas’ blood. As the son of two former tennis players, including his mother, Julia, who was ranked No. 1 in the world during her junior days, Tsitsipas was raised in a tennis environment, which helped mold the young Greek. He began taking lessons at the Tennis Club Glyfada in his home city of Athens, primarily coached by his father, Apostolos, whom continues to be on his coaching team to this day.

As you’d expect between family members working together, there have been times where the two have been at odds during matches, most notably during the ATP Cup in 2020 after Stefanos struggled against Nick Kyrgios. But their relationship is a very positive one, both say, and they understand toeing the line between father-son and coach-player.

“Stefanos was a charismatic child. He really listens and tries hard every day for many years to achieve his goals,” said Apostolos. “He listens carefully to each coach and believes that he can learn something from everyone. Our cooperation is completely harmonious, and it is my pleasure to work with Stefanos because I love him, as I love my other children.”

Apostolos can recall a time when his son was only nine-years-old after a tournament in France, Stefanos said:

“Dad, I have to tell you something: I want to become a tennis player, I like the competition, I like the challenge.”

And from there, Stefanos was on his path to becoming a professional tennis player. His father even quit his job when his son was 12-years-old and needed someone to travel to tournaments with him.

“I don’t know if he had a choice, but he just risked it. He just quit himself and started traveling with me,” he recalls. “I do appreciate what he did for me, because it’s amazing. Not many fathers would do this for their son.”


 

Tsitsipas continued to train in Athens and still does on occasion to this day, but at age 17 he traveled to France and began training at the famed Patrick Mouratoglou Academy. Tsitsipas was clearly talented from the onset and continued to develop as he progressed through his junior career, climbing to the top spot in the world junior rankings and joined the ITF Junior Circuit when he was around 14-years-old. A few years later, in 2016, he turned pro and was competing in events on the Futures and Challenger Tours.

He made a name for himself at the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2018 after his breakout season. Tsitsipas won all three of his matches in the Group Stage, and then defeated Andrey Rublev and Alex de Minaur in the semifinals and finals, respectively.

The following year, in 2019, Tsitsipas moved up to the adult table and captured the title at the ATP Finals, the biggest win of his young career.

“I feel like my game is getting better over time, and I believe I’m really close on being crowned a Grand Slam champion,” said Tsitsipas after that win. “I know these are strong words that I say, but I do feel like I belong there. I’m competing against one of the best players in the world, and the amount of effort and the amount of work I put in every day deserves to have an outcome like this.”

With that victory, Tsitsipas has established himself as one of the world’s top players, and has remained inside the Top 10 since the start of 2020. The next step would be that elusive Grand Slam title he referenced, and 2021 could be just the year that produces that result for him.

His year began Down Under as he prepared to compete in the 2021 Australian Open. All players who arrived for the event were forced to stay under strict quarantine guidelines which were required by the Australian government.

Being stuck in quarantine in a hotel was a daunting task for most players, but Tsitsipas optimistic outlook on nearly everything he does helped him cope with the isolation. He even gave a tour of his suite during the quarantine process on his YouTube channel. That channel is one of Tsitsipas’ creative outlets off the court, and his videos have nearly 4.5 million total views and 169,000 subscribers. He has a strong desire to connect with people off the court, and has used his time off the court to explore his creative side.

“There was a lot of traveling for me when I started touring and playing tennis. I was watching a lot of creators and people that were creating nice content on YouTube, and I found this platform unique and the perfect platform to express yourself,” he said. “I did start my YouTube channel. I was inspired by a few people to create. I love cinematography, filmmaking, photography. I believe there are a lot of positive ways that you can use that to your advantage. It relaxes me. I get connected with my fans and the people that are interested in me.”

His off-court endeavors and desire to connect with the fans has made Tsitsipas one of the best follows on social media, and has really endeared himself to the tennis world. In addition to connecting with fans, he has done great charitable work as he uses his platform for good, launching a fund, the Beyond 100 Support, at the start of the last year to help financially support lower-ranked tennis players.

“As the youngest player in the Top 10, I feel responsible to help the future of tennis,” said Tsitsipas. “I understand how critical it is for the sustainability of both ATP and WTA players ranked beyond the Top 100 and how difficult it is to make a living from professional tennis, especially with no tennis events going on for an undefined period of time. Through the creation of 'Beyond 100 Support', I hope to start a movement that my fellow players will follow suit.”

While Tsitsipas is one of the most accessible players on tour and has a good heart, when it comes time to hit the court, he is as serious as they come, especially considering his desire to claim that first major trophy.

His best chance would come in Melbourne as he reached the quarterfinals and had a showdown with Rafael Nadal. In one of the most remarkable wins in recent memory, Tsitsipas came back from two-sets- down to beat the legend, becoming only the second player ever to come back from two-sets-to-love down to defeat Nadal at a Grand Slam as he advanced with a 3-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-5 victory.

“Moments like this haven’t happened a lot in my career, and the fact that I was able to come back the way I did and the way I fought against such a top, respected player like Rafa was something extra, something I have never felt before,” said Tsitsipas. “To be able to just walk up to my team and hug them and share that little moment of appreciation and solidarity, it was epic. It was everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m glad where I am today. There is obviously light at the end of the tunnel, and there is plenty more to go.”

Unfortunately, Tsitsipas’ run would come to an end in the semifinals at the hands of Russian Daniil Medvedev, but Tsitsipas will take away positives from his run in Australia, setting up what should be a dominant season for him.


 

“I created some amazing memories. I had a very nice stay in Australia...it was a hell of a trip here in Australia,” Tsitsipas said. “I’ve proven that I have the level to beat these players...So let’s hope for something better next time. I really hope it comes.”

As we progress through 2021 and beyond, a Grand Slam title looks to be in Tsitsipas’ future, but of course nothing is guaranteed. He won’t sit back and wait for something like that to happen to him, but instead will go out there and live by his motto, and create his own opportunity.

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com