Brad Gilbert Breaks Down Stefanos Tsitsipas' Game
The former World No. 4 examines the Greek's strokes and intangibles
#NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas went on a magical run at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, beating four Top 10 opponents en route to his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. And if you ask 20-time ATP World Tour titlist Brad Gilbert, Tsitsipas is only on the way up.
“I thought before this week, if he could finish the year in the Top 20 [of the ATP Rankings], it would be a really good effort. Well all of a sudden now he’s 11th in the [ATP] Race To London, and I’m sure he’ll play quite a bit, so it’s not out of the question, especially if he could make a deep run at the US Open,” said Gilbert of Tsitsipas possibly qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals.”
“I put the over-under at 7.5 for 2019,” Gilbert said of where he expects the #NextGenATP star's ranking to be. “It’ll be interesting."
Tsitsipas has yet to win an ATP World Tour title, falling short in his second championship match on Sunday in Toronto. But Gilbert wouldn’t be surprised if the 20-year-old is victorious at Masters 1000 events in the future.
“Why not? He’s elevated himself to No. 2 for me right now in the 22 and unders. He beat four Top 10 players in a row. I know that [Alexander] Zverev let that one get away when he was dominating him at 6-3, 5-2 [in the quarter-finals],” Gilbert said. “But I was incredibly impressed with the [Novak] Djokovic match, when he didn’t drop serve against Djokovic. Djokovic hadn’t had any matches this year before that when he didn’t break serve.”
So how has Tsitsipas positioned himself as one of the hottest players in the sport? Gilbert examines Tsitsipas' strokes and intangibles:
So many guys have great inside-out forehands. It’s a tough shot to control when you go well outside the doubles alley and then try to bring it inside the court. But that’s the shot he beat Zverev with and he has an incredibly versatile forehand. He can go inside-out, inside-in, he hits a really good approach. There’s a lot to build on with his forehand. And I think as he gets stronger, that shot’s only going to get bigger. His ability when he hits inside-in [is also important] because most guys go inside-out. When he hits it you’re not expecting it and that’s only going to make his inside-out better. So I think the forehand is off the charts.
Juan Martin del Potro hits it harder and flatter and he also hits it better on the run. One thing Tsitsipas can improve a lot is when you make him hit it in a stationary position, he doesn’t absorb pace that well. Delpo absorbs pace really well with his forehand. If you leave anything short to him, it’s good night, Irene. He could have every bit as good of a forehand if not better, but at this point I can’t see his forehand as better than Delpo’s.
One thing that impressed me was how well on the run he could scramble. He'd hit little squash shots back, flick shots below the net and his ability on big points to play the inside-in or take a forehand and come in is impressive. He’s got a lot of confidence on that shot, which is a great sign for someone his age. Maybe he has the best forehand in the game in a few years.
I think as he gets stronger, he’ll be able to handle the high ball more. His swing looks so familiar, like a combination of [Grigor] Dimitrov and [Roger] Federer. A lot of his shots look like a combination of those two players’ shots. Very visual on the serve, forehand and backhand, but especially on the serve and the backhand.
I want to see once in my lifetime, all the two-handers learn to play with one. I want to see one of these one-handers learn to hit a two-handed backhand return. I think that’s something that’s a possibility. But I do think that’s one shot he could improve a lot. Federer has by far the best backhand return of any of the single-handers because he has a great block return that’s almost like a backhand volley. I think that Tsitsipas can add that to his game. I think that’s the most important return for a one-hander, because you can’t blunt the power and take a full swing at it like two-handed players can.
He keeps the racquet in front of him and he has nice, good technique. He has a good understanding of how to finish points at the net. He knows how to run through floaters, and he has good instincts at the net. For his age of 20, that’s a good sign and I think he’ll only get better.
I remember watching Rafa [Nadal] win in 2005 in Canada on a fast court, and he was 19 when he beat Andre [Agassi]. The first thing that struck you besides the physicality, besides his forehand, was ‘Man, he knows how to finish points at the net’. Saying that about Rafa at a young age, that was a good sign. So the fact that Tsitsipas knows what he’s doing at the net and knows how to finish points, that’s something to really build on. You don’t see that often from young players. He’s got great feet and soft hands. That’s a lot to build on.
There’s no doubt that his second serve could improve and I’m sure it will. That’s why I think he has a lot of upside in his game to grow. I think that shot could dramatically improve and I think it will. To be a Top 2 player in the world and win Grand Slams and win a bunch of [Masters] 1000s, you have to hit that big and be more aggressive with it. I think that he has a lot of room to grow his game, which is a great thing.
I’d have to go to the practice court, but I think more than anything his toss goes a bit left, it gets a little bit spinny and it gets a little short and then the MPHs get a little bit low. Amazingly, he was winning a high percentage of second-serve points the entire tournament.
He can learn from another shot that I always talk about with Federer. A reason why he has 20 Grand Slams, he has an amazing second serve. He has a huge second serve. Pete Sampras had a beautiful serve. At Tsitsipas’ size, if you have a fearless second serve, that’s one of the greatest shots to have. It can help the potential of your game grow to a whole other level. If he could hit his second serve 105 to 110 miles per hour, and he can move it around, then things are going to happen for him.
Movement and Intangibles
He moves outstanding. Looking at him, more than anything, he’s 6’4”, I think he can get stronger, I think he’s closer to 6’5”, I think he moves great and I think he could dramatically improve his second serve and his first serve. I think he has a lot of upside. I think his biggest goals between 20 and 22 is to just keep getting better. I think he could improve his serve and his defensive capabilities are off the charts. I think that he’s way ahead of the curve for his age is because he volleys really well.
I thought [his resilience] was off the charts last week. But I need to watch him more than a one-week sample size to say what he’s going to be in a year or two from now, playing majors and in best-of-five sets. It was a great sample size this week. The most impressive part of his tournament was after he lost that second set to Djokovic, he kept himself together unbelievably and didn’t drop his serve the whole match. I thought that was by far the most impressive thing from the tournament for me.