Stefanos Tsitsipas interview: Journalist-turned-tennis star leading the sport’s next generation

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As Rafa Nadal sunk his knees into the Parisian clay to mark a sixth French Open title, a budding 12-year-old journalist was quickly updating the results on his tennis Facebook page.

A decade and, in Nadal’s case, a further seven Roland Garros titles on, that youthful reporter, Stefanos Tsitsipas, is alongside Novak Djokovic arguably the biggest threat to the Spaniard’s hegemony.

And the 22-year-old has a genuine belief he can upset a player he once idolised, although it has taken a few years to get his head around the concept.

“It’s never easy playing your idols on court,” he said. “As a young journalist, I’d write a lot about Rafa and look how things have changed. I’m now in a position to face him, an idol that’s now a rival. It’s magnificent to be honest.”

Tsitsipas came from two sets to one down to knock Nadal out of the quarter-finals of this year’s Australian Open and then last month pushed him to a deciding set in a high-quality Barcelona Open final in front of a partisan crowd on a court named after Nadal.

“He’s the best clay-court player in the world and the favourite to win in Paris but I’m capable of having a good game against him,” he said. “I would love to play Rafa in Paris. I’d love to test my strengths and ability against him on the Parisian clay. It would mean I’m doing well in the tournament!”

The Barcelona loss still acts as a frustration having swung on the finest of margins, and Nadal just a fraction away from his best and entirely beatable. Going into the match, Tstistipas hadn’t dropped a single set in two tournaments on clay having won the previous tournament in Monte Carlo.

“The Australian Open gave me confidence, a belief that I can recreate that win even on clay,” he said. “That was painful but one loss shouldn’t keep me away from pursuing my dreams. And that loss taught me a lot. I might change a few things, try something different next. It’s more lessons taken.”

Tsitsipas is leading tennis’ next generation in 2021 to the extent that he is No1 in the Race to Turin – the end-of-season ATP Finals.

Unsurprisingly, he feels one of the leading protagonists to upset the big three at the Grand Slams.

“I’ve been very close three times – semi-finals – and just two wins from making it happen,” he said. “Daniil Medvedev has come closer still. Just to give people an understanding, we’re not that far.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“Some people think we have no chance against them but we have had opportunities, it just hasn’t happened yet. And it will come, and I’m working hard every day to get there. When I get close, I need to deal with it better, experience it more and move on.”

A first Grand Slam title aside, the other main target is to finish the season No3 in the world, while Wimbledon, a tournament which should be suited to his game but one where he has struggled, is his No1 target.

Only once has the 22-year-old, a former junior doubles champion at SW19, made it out of the first round there. And he points to the example of Roger Federer for inspiration, a player who endured three first-round losses at Wimbledon before his first title there.

“Roger inspires me, we both play the one-hand backhand, he’s also a very aggressive player, he said. “I think it’s just a matter of time for me at Wimbledon. I don’t think there’s a better tournament out there, it’s a surface that any player wants to thrive on and create amazing memories. Things will happen if I do the right things, it’s just a matter of time.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

“This is going to be the most important tournament of the year for me. I love the grass, I see myself playing well on the grass. I’m aiming high, I’m going big this year on Wimbledon.”

With his attacking style, his occasionally emotional way of playing, it’s hard not to envisage Tsitsipas as a crowd favourite on Centre Court in 2021 and beyond.

And he makes no secret of that ambition. “I like emotion, I live for emotion,” he said. “I celebrate my victories, go down on my knees and share it with others around me. When I see players acting all cool about that, I don’t lie about that. It’s just too robotic.

“I love players that are natural, such as Nadal, who shows out his emotion. He really fights, he shows he’s willing to fight and puts on a great show, at the French Open in particular. And Roger might be a maestro of keeping calm but he expresses his emotions. They have revolutionised tennis. I’d love to be the same.”

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