Tsitsipas Finds The Spark, Captures Marseille Title
20-year-old improves to 11-4 this season
Tsitsipas, who will rise to a career-high No. 11 in the ATP Rankings on Monday 25 February, entered the tournament searching for form after early losses in Sofia (l. to Monfils) and Rotterdam (l. to Dzumhur), but found his best level to take the title in Marseille without dropping a set. The 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who owns an 11-4 record this season, last month became the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Novak Djokovic (2007 US Open) at the Australian Open.
"I lost the spark [after the Australian Open] and I was frustrated because it felt like I couldn't find it again," said Tsitsipas. "This week, I can say I am really happy because I felt this hunger back again... I really hope it stays the same because there are many good players out there that play for the same prize."
Tsitsipas' second tour-level trophy comes less than five months after lifting his maiden title in Stockholm (d. Gulbis) last October. The #NextGenATP Greek also ended his 2018 season with success in Milan, winning each of his five matches to triumph at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
"Winning titles is the thing that I am working for... It is the biggest satisfaction and the biggest joy in tennis," said Tsitsipas.
The World No. 12, who revealed his desire to add ATP 500 and ATP Masters 1000 trophies to his collection this year, improves to 2-0 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Kukushkin. Tsitsipas also defeated the Kazakh in three sets at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last year.
"[I have] satisfaction. There was a lot of stress this week because I knew I had to face some good opponents... When you care a lot, you tend to be more stressed than usual. I am happy that I got through that stress and played the game that I was supposed to play," said Tsitsipas.
Holding serve with relative ease throughout the first set, Tsitsipas put Kukushkin under consistent pressure on serve. The #NextGenATP Greek tried to keep points short, charging to the net and dictating with his backhand to earn points on return. Kukushkin handled the pressure well to reach 5-5, before Tsitsipas made a crucial move. After holding serve for a 6-5 lead, the top seed played with depth and brought his forehand into play to extract a crucial backhand error from his opponent for a one-set advantage.
After failing to convert his first break-point opportunity, Kukushkin claimed the opening break of the second set at 2-2 with his second cross-court forehand winner of the game. But Tsitsipas recaptured his best level as Kukushkin served for the set at 5-4, playing with depth, while varying the pace on his groundstrokes, to reach a tie-break. With the trophy in sight, Tsitsipas moved up the court and extracted errors from his opponent with aggressive forehands to claim the title.
"I lost my serve at 5-4 [in the second set] and I had to win that service [game] if I wanted to win the match," said Kukushkin. "I made a few mistakes in the tie-break. From one point, it was a really great match. It was a great week for me... I played a good level of tennis today. Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes that decided the winner today."
Kukushkin was bidding to capture his second title in his fourth tour-level championship match. The 31-year-old lifted his maiden ATP Tour title at the 2010 St. Petersburg Open (d. Youzhny), before final losses at the 2013 VTB Kremlin Cup (l. to Gasquet) and the 2015 Sydney International (l. to Troicki).
"I was solid all week," said Kukushkin. "I did not drop a set before the final... I played a really good level of tennis. Of course, it is one of the best weeks of my life. Unfortunately, I was not able to win today, but this week, the way I played, was one of the best of my tennis career."
Kukushkin gains 150 ATP Ranking points and earns €47,105. Tsitsipas collects 250 ATP Ranking points and receives €89,435 in prize money.