Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Australian Open: giant Tsitsipas

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Stefanos Tsitsipas, in his first round against Italian Salvatore Caruso, on January 20 in Melbourne. HANNAH MCKAY / REUTERS

When he is old enough to tell his career by the fireside, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, can always slip this feat of arms to his descendants: he will have been the first player in history to have dominated during a same season the Holy Tennis Trinity of the first two decades of the XXIe century.

In 2019, the Greek tamed Rafael Nadal on clay (in Madrid), Roger Federer (Australian Open and London Masters) and Novak Djokovic (Shanghai) on fast surface. " Confronting Novak, Roger or Rafa motivates a lot. I feel like they have more to lose than I do, so when I face them, I feel more relaxed than against others ", justified the young mutineer when commenting on his hunting board.

If the logic of the draw is respected, in Melbourne on the 6the world – who must face the Canadian Milos Raonic (35e) Friday January 24 to 3e lap – should cross Djokovic's path in the quarterfinals. A year ago, his fiery talent had led him to the semi-finals, thrashed into three small sets by Nadal. But the Australian public had forgiven him for his crime of lese majesty in eighths (victory over Federer), dazzled by his panache.

Roland's traumatic defeat

The start of the season followed in the same tone: success in Marseille and Estoril, finals in Dubai and Madrid. At Roland Garros, he was put on the underdog costume. In the round of 16, against Swiss Stan Wawrinka, "the baseline striker" delivered the nicest duel of the fortnight on the Lenglen. Five sets and more than five hours of snorkeling tennis (7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6). Eight break points missed in the last set. The pain of defeat was inversely proportional to the size of the fight: "It's been a long time since I cried after a game … I've been so close. So close… It’s the worst feeling, nobody would like to be in my place… ”

The trauma took a long time to digest. Out in the first round at Wimbledon, he dragged his pain all summer, stumbling again from entry in four tournaments in a row (Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open, Zhuhai). The Greek was no longer inhabited by the same rage, the same hunger. " I feel like I'm doing the same things all the time and my brain is no longer accepting … The same routines on the court, the same strategies … and I don't feel inspired ", he confessed, distraught, in New York.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Stefanos Tsitsipas invites himself to the Roland-Garros banquet

Nervous, in constant questioning, the boy is very sensitive. On the circuit, his perched world seduces or disturbs, it depends. Until then very active on Twitter and Instagram, he decided to distance himself from social networks. "It is a waste of energy for my brain and my thoughts. It drove me crazy. I removed all the apps from my phone and noticed a difference in my behavior and how I feel. (…) I think it was one of the best decisions I made. "

It remains to copy and paste this serenity outside on the ground if he wants to definitively enter the big leagues. Picks with the referee and racket jets still exceed the tolerated threshold. Last illustration during the ATP Cup, world team championship whose first edition took place from January 3 to 12 on Australian soil. Dominated by the local Nick Kyrgios, who never hid his enmity for the Greek, the latter threw his racket near the chair where his father's trainer, Apostolos, was, lightly injuring his arm.

"I have never seen a warrior like that"

“After a defeat, he doesn't talk to anyone, he does room service and you have to wait until the next day to talk a little. He's a perfectionist, he doesn't want to disappoint us, mentioned in mid-November in The Team Kerei Abakar, the high-level director at the Mouratoglou Academy, where the Greek trains. If he feels that he has not given everything he had to give, he feels guilty. It falls very low very quickly, but it goes up at the same speed. In fact, I’ve never seen a warrior like that. "

In 2018, he won the Informal Masters for players under the age of 21. In mid-November 2019, for its first participation in the original version, which brings together the eight best players of the season in London, "Tsitsifast", one of its nicknames, achieved a master stroke by winning against to the Austrian Thiem after knocking down Federer, Zverev and Medvedev. The Austrian and the Russian also appear in the "short-list" of young wolves capable of dislodging this season the three glorious elders, the German a little less since he favored highly paid exhibitions to a serious winter preparation .

Read also Tennis: with the Masters, Stefanos Tsitsipas wins his first major title

The junior who, three years earlier, was assigned the role of sparring partner during the Masters 2016 thus became the youngest winner of the event since the Australian Lleyton Hewitt in 2001. With this first great title of his career, the popularity of Tsitsipas, one of the two stars of Greek sport with the basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks, NBA), swelled a little more in the country.

"I was a little surprised by its progress, it was still dizzying. Of course he has the potential to win a Grand Slam, " said to World Patrick Mouratoglou in 2019. Since arriving at the antipodes, his protégé repeats his triple ambition this season: winning a Masters 1000, finishing the season in the Top 3 and lifting a Grand Slam trophy. For some, it would pass for ranting. Stefanos Tsitsipas has so far always translated his words into action.

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