As he pulled off yet another victory over Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas proved what many watchers, Djokovic included, have regularly said — that the Greek is a future World No 1. At 21, you might be hard-pressed to say that he is enjoying a comeback, but for the young Greek, his win over the reigning No 1 has been meaningful for a number of reasons.
The match marked victories for Tsitsipas this year over each of the Big 3: Roger Federer at the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal in Madrid, and now, Djokovic in Shanghai, where the top-ranked player was defending his title.
The win also meant that Tsitsipas secured his place at the year-end ATP Tour Finals, having won the NextGen finals only last year. The youngest player to have defeated all of the Big 3, Tsitsipas is also one of only four players who have faced Djokovic at least three times to have a winning record against him. On Friday, the Greek ace achieved that feat down a set, against a player who had won his last 15 sets.
Only one year after his breakout 2018 season, Tsitsipas has already hit No 6 in the ATP singles rankings, and has a firm lead over No 7 Kei Nishikori. That being said, it has not been smooth sailing for him this year, particularly on the grass-court swing. After a successful clay season, the Australian Open semi-finalist struggled to find his form on the ATP’s hard courts. First-round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open did not help his cause either.
But what Tsitsipas has, in addition to his obvious aggressive skills, is a composed on-court demeanour not so readily found in players of his generation, something that has also contributed to his ability to win crunch games, even at Grand Slams.
What the Greek has on his side, apart from that calm, is youth and a significantly less fragile body than the older peers he has sought to emulate. His aggressive game, the much-touted single-handed backhand, the variety in his forehand, and most importantly, his ability to know which shot will work for him even at the toughest moments in his game mark him out as a special talent.
Tsitsipas' 6'4" frame means quicker surfaces are great for him, and speed is easier to generate. That, and the fact that he grew up playing on clay — the slowest surface of them all — and has even beaten Rafael Nadal on the surface this year, truly shows his comfort on every surface. Where most players start off good on one surface and go on to break the proverbial mould, Tsitsipas has declared his skills pretty much on each surface. A few blips aside, his consistency has been a sight to behold.
Now, Tsitsipas takes on another young gun making a name for himself in Russia’s Daniil Medvedev — the 'heel' of the US Open who pushed Rafael Nadal to the edge and back several times over the course of the pair’s hotly contested final. Medvedev leads the head-to-head record over Tsitsipas 4-0, but if there’s one player who likely will not be fazed by that going into the match, it is Tsitsipas.
In the quarter-final against Djokovic, Tsitsipas dictated play from behind the baseline, served aggressively, and waited for the Serb to blink first. It worked, of course. To be able to take on one of the best tennis players in history is not an easy task, particularly not down a set on the big stage. But in the past two years, and indeed, even this season, that is what has held Tsitsipas up.
Perhaps it is his near-death experience as a young(er) man that contributed to his fearless, yet calm on-court demeanour, one that belies maturity far beyond his years. Even then, in so many ways, Tsitsipas is like a typical young person on the internet — posting platitudes on Instagram, wanting to start his own travel vlog, and posting memes on a regular basis. But for the 21-year-old, balance — on and off the court — has been his forte.
And it will also be what makes the young Greek more and more likely to be the "Future No 1" Novak Djokovic described him as following the pair’s match on Friday.
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Updated Date: Oct 12, 2019 13:16:12 IST