The 21-year-old Greek sparks an impatience, with himself rather than with his generation. He gets fidgety, pushing back his unruly crop, shifts in his seat or leans forward. The world No.6 thinks it’s high time they’re winning majors, but he’s equally aware of the Everest to eclipse. His own run in Grand Slams, following his pre-quarterfinal exit at the French Open last year, in an exhaustive five-hour, five-setter to Swiss strongman Stan Wawrinka, has been modest, one win in three starts since. He isn’t letting himself off the hook.
In an exclusive chat with Times Sportal on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free tennis championships, Tsitsipas, said he’s ready for more — results, responsibilities and recognition.
It’s more than 12 months now, since you broke through at the Australian Open last year, have you adjusted to life as an elite pro?
I’ve achieved some great things so far. I just need to keep my head down, keep working. I remember this moment when I broke into the top 10 for the first time, beating Gael Monfils (in Dubai) in the semifinals very vividly. It was a great moment for me. Sometimes I try to see it that way, but at the same time I feel like I’m not really getting that much attention because I guess the people around me have managed to kind of balance it out.
It’s a great position where I am right now, No. 6 in the world, trying to get better every single day. It is successful because it’s not easy to sustain that and stay up there. It’s more difficult to stay up there than to reach that level. At the same time I feel like I’m not really recognized in many places. That makes me want to do better, to get a bigger fan base around the world. I’m trying to put extra work, the extra amount of concentration on every single match because I know that’s going to be something that’s going to define my future. I consider myself pretty humble. I’m not trying to think too much of myself because there’s a long journey and long road for me still to go.
Do you enjoy the challenge of competing?
You know what I enjoy? I really enjoy when I play well on the court, feel well on the court and everything just happens on its own. I don’t have to force myself too much. That brings me the biggest joy, when I’m in the court, playing clean, beautiful tennis, playing not just for myself, but also the crowd, giving a really good show. I enjoy that.
You have a good head-to-head against Novak Djokovic (2-3), is the way you handle his serve, given that his return puts so much pressure on the serve is what has helped you against the world No.1?
He’s been playing great tennis. Everybody has seen what he did at the Australian Open. He’s just a solid player. Everything is good: forehand, backhand, serve. His serve is really good. It’s not really fast. It’s very well-placed. If you manage to do what he does when he starts the rally — stay in the rally, that’s what he does best. He applies pressure straightaway. He tries to find the depth of the court, be in charge straightaway.
Would you say social media is a distraction or does it put pressure on younger athletes?
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about social media. Some people find it okay. I guess some people aren’t in the position that I am, they don’t get that much attention and response in what they do. For me it can be quite vexing. I’m trying to get away from it. I don’t really follow social media, except YouTube, which is my main source of TV and entertainment. I get a lot of criticism on social media. A lot of people say things that may affect me in a way, may bring me to a different mental state, make me doubt myself. I try to avoid it during tournaments, during competitions, during important weeks, and focus on the people around me more rather than the people that are far away and don’t know what’s happening.
You have won one match in the last three Grand Slams, have you gotten over that loss to Stan Wawrinka at the French Open, in the round of 16?
I had a really bad match at Wimbledon which was quite unlucky for me. I played a lot of matches last year. That bad match happened at Wimbledon against Thomas Fabbiano (losing in five sets in the first round). I wasn’t very happy with myself. I had high expectations of myself. Wimbledon is a tournament that I love playing. I just disappointed myself. I don’t really know what to say about US Open. I think I was quite unlucky also with the draw at the US Open. I played Andrey Rublev, who was in top form at that period of time. I felt like we’re quite equal in that particular moment. There were just a few points that I didn’t play correctly, and he got the upper hand and won in four sets. That was a match that I was a bit stressed playing. I had a bad loss at Wimbledon. It affected me a lot. But despite that, I didn’t really play a bad first round at the US Open. Let’s talk about the Australian Open (2020). I played Raonic, who I think that day played incredibly well, didn’t give me much options. He really played incredible that day. I didn’t really have any other ideas out on the court. He deserved it.
It is the Olympic year. How important is winning a medal for Greece?
I’ve been dreaming of something like this happening. I’d love to see that. The Olympics means a lot to all Greek people. That’s where the Games come from, Greece is its origin. I’ll just have tears in my eyes if I leave from Tokyo with a medal. I think it’s every athlete’s dream. Also it’s just fulfilling in general. It’s a great thing to have. It’s a great milestone, achievement, call it however you like to call it. It’s going to be one of the best two weeks of my life in Tokyo.
Do you see yourself working with any other coach, other than your father Apostolos, for the rest of your career? Is it something that works well for you and are you happy with it?
I have a team that I’ve been working with for a very long time now. They don’t really get that much attention for some reason. But they do a few weeks in a year with me, Grand Slams, Masters 1000s. My dad is not my only coach. Also have Manuel Albacar, who was with me in Marseille last week, sitting next to my dad. He’s also my coach when I’m at the academy. A great coach. I don’t feel like I need anything more, anything better in the state I am in right now. I also have Patrick Mouratoglou, who I consider one of the best coaches in the world, with much knowledge in the sport. I trust him 100 per cent. I have a great team. I’m always trying to learn from players, ex-players, chat with them. I’ve chatted a lot with Leander Paes, he gives good advice, he’s a good mentor.
Would you advocate coaching from the stands on the ATP Tour?
I quite like tennis the way it is right now. I think the player is the one who should be trying to find solutions when he’s playing. I feel like if certain players can afford better coaches, it’s going to be the battle of the coaches, not so much the battle of the players. That’s what makes the sport pure the way it is right now.
Novak Djokovic hasn’t lost a singles match this year. How do you view the kind of consistency he’s able to bring over a long period of time?
Personally I think it is possible (to have 21-match winning streak). I’m not surprised he has done it. I want to do it one day too. It’s a good combination of good rehab, having a good in-between match scheduling, how well you recover after every match. Your diet plays an important role. Also your mental state, having a clear mental state, not having anything bother you. I’ve been playing some good tennis. I’ve never had the record that Djokovic has. But I do think it’s possible. Of course, lots of respect to him for doing it so many times.
Novak Djokovic on Tsitsipas
He’s one of the leaders of the new generation. He is a hard worker, dedicated, charismatic, nice guy. He’s very smart, wise. I love the fact that he is more than just a tennis player and he’s always looking to learn from the experience and to understand something new about himself so he can improve, get better. That for me is a trait of a champion, of someone that for sure has a great potential to be No. 1 of the world and win Slams and be the great ambassador of our sport.