20-year-old player Stefanos Tsitsipas has blitzkrieged onto the scene of the Australian Open, drawing Greek supporters to every match. The support is much to the joy of the bright young star who took over two and a half hours to defeat Serbian veteran Viktor Troicki 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 and then worked through a third round encounter with Nikolaz Basilashvili from Georgia.
Fans are likening him to Marcos Baghdatis who made Melbourne Park his home in 2006. Now, another fairytale is playing itself out for Greeks as Tsitsipas appears to be following in the footsteps of his own idol and may even get a souvlaki named after him by Stalactites restaurant – just as had been the case with Baghdatis.
Is he surprised by the support? “No, I’m not (surprised). I remember how it was with Baghdatis and I saw it last year for the first time. But thank God I’m doing better this year,” he told reporters.
“It is great having them next to me in difficult times. They are very loud; they want it more than me at times. So far they have been fantastic.”
HIS TENNIS CHILDHOOD
It isn’t just the Greeks that should be proud, either, as there is a Russian vein that runs deep within the young player. He he is as proficient in the Russian language as he is in Greek. Born in Athens, Tsitsipas is the son of Greek tennis coach dad Apostolos Tsitsipas and former Russian champ Julia Apostoli (nee Salnikova). Though both his parents are experienced tennis players, his mother was world No 1 junior and had a high-flying career as a professional. Her father, Tsitsipas’ grandfather, was an Olympic gold medal-winning member of the Soviet national football team and a former manager of FC Spartak Moscow.
It isn’t surprising that the offspring of the two experienced players who met at the WTA tournament in Athens would also take an interest in the sport – and indeed, his three younger siblings Petros, Pavlos and Elizavet are also accomplished players.
Young Stefanos first started playing at a very young age – officially just aged six at the Tennis Club Glyfada. “My first memory is to be three and to hit balls with my father in the gap between lessons. I remember watching games on TV, as a baby, I can not tell you who was playing, but I remember watching,” he said in previous interviews. He also participated in football and swimming but it was tennis that drew him, after all it was in his DNA. His father recalls his son waking him up in the middle of the night after a tournament in France at age nine and told him “Dad, I have to tell you something: I want to become a tennis player, I like the competition, I like the challenge.”
Tsitsipas credits his mother’s twin sister, also a professional player for the Soviet Union, for helping the family so that he could afford to travel with his father and compete during his youth.
It was a matter of time before he rose to the ranks of No. 1 junior. His breakout year was in 2016, reaching at least the quarterfinals of all eight tournaments that he played, including all four Grand Slams.
His signature shot is a one-handed backhand, a rarity in modern tennis. He chose to go with it because it was used by both of his parents as well as his idol Roger Federer. He prefers playing on grass but also excels on clay, and hard courts have been his worst surface by match record but he was still able to reach a Masters final on this surface.
- Tsitsipas speaks English, Greek and Russian and is a supporter of Greek football team AEK Athens.
- The young tennis ace nearly drowned while swimming at a Futures tournament in Heraklion, Crete. A current carried him away from the shore, and his father helped to save his life. He said that the incident has helped him feel confident on the court, as by comparison it brings up “zero fear”.
- The young player’s goal is to promote the sport in Greece where, according to Tsitsipas, tennis is not very popular. He is motivated to do well to inspire more people in Greece to take up the sport.