A Year Has Made All The Difference For Tsitsipas
One year ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas was the alternate at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals. The Greek had just cracked the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time after reaching his maiden ATP World Tour semi-final in Antwerp, but he finished in 10th place in the ATP Race To Milan.
While Tsitsipas played an exhibition at the Fiera Milano against Alexander Zverev, that was the extent of his on-court action. Then 19, Tsitsipas was on the outside looking in. And that only pushed the Greek forward.
“All the Next Gen ATP players are giving me motivation to do better,” Tsitsipas said after his first match of the 2018 season. “I see them, the way they do things and I want to do the same things they do. I want to stay high in the ATP Rankings and follow their footsteps. It’s tough, what they are doing [and] they are the stars of tomorrow.”
The thing is, Tsitsipas said ‘they’ when he probably should have said ‘we’. Tsitsipas began 2018 at No. 91 in the ATP Rankings, the third-youngest player in the Top 100, which was impressive in itself. And while he fell short of Milan a year ago, the Cyprus resident didn’t shy from setting loft goals for this year.
“I’d like to make the fourth round of a Grand Slam, reach the Top 50 in the ATP Rankings and to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in November,” Tsitsipas said. “These are the main goals. We’ll see how the year goes. If it goes better then I’ll set new ones, but I’d like to start with that.”
Little did he know just how well he would play. Of all the players who competed in Milan in the tournament’s first two editions, Tsitsipas is the highest-ranked at No. 16. How did the Greek soar so many spots, one might ask?
Tsitsipas set the tone with a quarter-final to begin his season in Doha, and he never looked back. In Barcelona, Tsitsipas became the youngest finalist at the tournament in 13 years, also becoming the first Greek man to reach an ATP World Tour title match since 1973.
Then the #NextGenATP star made an even bigger breakthrough at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, becoming the youngest competitor to defeat four Top 10 players in the ATP Rankings — Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson — at the same tournament to reach his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final.
“For sure it gave me some confidence, knowing that I can play that well against top players,” Tsitsipas said. “It's very important to have these victories behind your back. It helps you to understand how much your game has developed since last time. These victories are always going to remain special.”
And perhaps more importantly, Tsitsipas gained the respect of his peers. Rafael Nadal, who also defeated the Greek in the Barcelona final, had high praise after beating him again in Toronto.
“He has everything. He has a very complete game. Big serve. Great shots from the baseline. He's brave. He's young. He has everything,” Nadal said. “If he's able to keep improving, and the normal thing is he will do it, he will be fighting for the most important titles of the world of tennis immediately.”
You might call him Rafael Nostradamus, because Tsitsipas became the first Greek to win an ATP World Tour title at the Intrum Stockholm Open. Now, the 20-year-old can punctuate his season with another impressive performance at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
“Milan is a great event,” Tsitsipas said after triumphing in Stockholm. “We can face each other in a single tournament. This competition is very, very good for our confidence because we are the future of the game. We can face each other from a very young age, and that's very good. We can develop together and experience things together.”
Tsitsipas has come a long way since this time last year, when he was on the outside looking in. Now, all eyes are on him. Did Tsitsipas expect that?
“Not really,” Tsitsipas admitted. “[But] hard work and talent and dedication equals good results and achieving great things.”