Tsitsipas aims to win first major title in France
  | By Brian Coleman
Photo Credit: Hamish Blair/Tennis Australia

 

Two years ago, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Paris, France, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas was on the verge of having his greatest day as a tennis player. He was competing in the finals of the 2021 French Open, and while his opponent was the great Novak Djokovic, Tsitsipas was in full control of the match as he aimed to capture the first major title of his young career.

Tsitsipas had won the opening set in a tiebreaker, and then compiled a dominant second set to win it 6-2, and move within one set of the Roland Garros title.

But that’s when the wheels fell off, and whether it was Djokovic raising his level or Tsitsipas dropping his, what started out as a potential career day for the Greek star turned into one of the worst losses of his life.

“What I learned today is that no matter what, in order for the match to be finished, you have to win three sets and not two,” Tsitsipas said following his 7-6(6), 6-2, 3-6, 2-6, 4-6 defeat. “Two sets doesn’t really mean anything. It’s still one away from winning the entire match. I don’t think I relaxed. I don’t think I changed much…He came back to me like a different player suddenly. I don’t know. I have no idea. He played really well.”

That confused and puzzled reaction to a Djokovic masterclass performance is not uncommon. And while the loss was no doubt devastating, Tsitsipas tried to walk away from that match and tournament with a positive outlook.

“I don’t think I have regrets. I could have easily cried, but I see no reason for me crying because I tried everything. I couldn’t come up with anything better,” he said. “I believe I’m able to play for titles like this. Despite my loss today, I have faith in my game. I very much believe I can get to that point very soon. I was close today. Every opponent is difficult. There’s a small difference between the player I played today and the ones from before. But I think with the same attitude, I see no reason for me not to be holding the trophy one day.”

So with that mentality, Tsitsipas did not let the stinging defeat to Djokovic consume him, but instead put his head down and continued to go to work. He would win two titles in 2022 and recorded the 250th match win of his career, but was unable to make any deep runs at the four majors.

But at the beginning of this year, Tsitsipas reached the finals of the Australian Open for the first time in his career, and while he was defeated by Djokovic once again, Tsitsipas indicated that he feels he’s close to winning that elusive Grand Slam title.

“I’m just happy that I’m in another Grand Slam final. Of course, I was dreaming about the trophy, lifting that trophy. I even dreamt it last night in my sleep,” he said in his post-match press conference. “The desire is really there. I really, really want it badly. But just dreaming about it won’t make it happen. You got to act. You got to do something out there. You got to be present even more and do better. Today, I felt like there were moments that I was close, but the tiebreak didn’t really show that. Just bad starts. So I’ll just eliminate it, take the good things, and move on from there.”

He will use that approach and take that mentality into this spring’s French Open where he hopes this trip to Roland Garros will be the one that pays off. He began the clay court season by reaching the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, an event he has won twice before in his career.

His ability to play on clay is one of the biggest strengths of Tsitsipas’ game. In his career, he’s posted a record of 80-26 on clay, with four of his nine career titles coming on the surface. Heading into this year’s clay-court swing, Tsitsipas explained why he likes playing on clay, and how he has been successful.

“I think it’s deeper than people think. There is a lot of strategy involved,” said Tsitsipas. “You’re not expecting to hit crazy winners on a surface like clay. You’re dealing with much patience when you’re playing. It involved more around unforced and forced errors. The way you can open up the court. The main priority isn’t to hit a winner, but be precise and open the court.”

Tsitsipas’ graceful movement on the court makes his playing style suitable to clay, and he is an extremely cerebral player on the court which allows him to strategize successfully during matches.

All of that leads us to this year’s French Open and with Tsitsipas as one of the tournament’s favorites. According to oddsmakers, he is listed as the fourth favorite, behind Djokovic, Alcaraz and Nadal, respectively. His preparation in the lead-up tournaments will go a long way in helping him feel confident, which includes potentially winning in Barcelona, which the Greek star says is one of the most difficult events on the calendar.

Tsitsipas opened up about that, and how he feels about his Grand Slam chances.

“I hope I can play a good level here. I have played the tournament several times, and it is a very long road to the final, a real marathon, winning this tournament is one of the biggest challenges on the circuit,” he said. “This year, after playing in the final in Australia, I had that injury that has prevented me from competing well in upcoming tournaments, so next time I’ll have to level up a lot if I want to win. I have to improvement my preparation.”

He also indicated that a player like Alcaraz coming onto the scene makes that task even tougher, but creates a challenge that he is excited to try to overcome:

“I know that I am really close, I just have to continue on this same path, giving myself the opportunity to continue fighting until I stand up again in another final. It is a long road to reach that goal, now I am working to be more consistent and return as soon as possible to stand up to an opportunity like this. Of course, the arrival of Alcaraz makes this objective a bit more complicated than it already is, but I love that the challenges are difficult. Few things are more satisfying than overcoming a really complicated challenge.”

Tsitsipas will aim to overcome that challenge this spring and summer as he continues his push for the first major title of his career.

 

 

Brian Coleman

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