WASHINGTON, December 11, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Editor’s note: The 2018 tennis season will be remembered for the new stars who emerged on both the ATP and WTA tours. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov and Borna Coric made a significant impact on the men’s scene this year, while Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina shone brightly for the women.
Today, Tennis TourTalk begins a series of off-season features that highlight these rising stars of pro tennis, beginning with Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece enjoyed a breakout year in 2018 by winning 46 tour-level matches. The candid and likeable 20-year-old from Athens, who previously became the first Greek player to reach the Top 100 in the history of the ATP rankings in 2017, reached a career best No. 15 on August 13, 2018.
Tsitsipas won his first ATP title at Stockholm in October, after reaching the finals in Barcelona during the European spring clay season. Then, he capped his dream year by winning the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, beating all-comers including Australia’s Alex de Minaur in the final. He finished the year ranked No. 15 in just his first full season on the ATP Tour.
“I feel like I belong,” said Tsitsipas during an August interview while competing at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I can play and have good wins.”
Tsitsipas’ game has matured since he began competing full time on the ATP Tour after playing Challengers a year ago. He said, “The difference between playing Challengers and the World Tour is the players’ games are more mature. You are playing against better and more skilled players.”
In each of the past four seasons, Tsitsipas has shown steady improvement in his game and has lifted his year-end ATP ranking every year. He’s built upon the success he enjoyed as a talented junior player, who rose to No. 1 in May 2016.
Tsitsipas began the year ranked No. 91 with just four tour-level match wins. Then, after reaching the semifinals at the Citi Open in early August, Tsitsipas enjoyed a breakout moment the following week at the Masters 1000 Rogers Cup in Toronto, where he garnered four straight Top 20 wins, over Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson. Tsitsipas showed phenomenal composure by hitting 42 winners and stepped up huge in beating Djokovic, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3. The victory over the 14-time Grand Slam champion was arguably the best performance by a Next Gen player this season. Tsitsipas won by exuding calmness, showing intelligence and displaying the right touch of aggression all the while showing nervelessness.
As is customary for the winners of big matches, Tsitsipas autographed the courtside camera lens by signing, #Pray For Greece, accented by a heart sign and his autograph. It was a nice and kind gesture toward his home country, which was ravaged by summer fires.
Afterward, Tsitsipas said, “I’m putting Greece more deep into the map of tennis. So, I’m pretty sure I’m making my family proud, all of those people that are watching, my coach, my father. I’ve never felt so many emotions after a victory.”
Thanks to the big stride Tsitsipas enjoyed in Toronto, he earned Most Improved Player of the Year honors in the 2018 ATP Awards presented by Moët & Chandon. He is coached by his father, Apostolos.
“Playing in a Masters 1000 final is the best thing that can happen on your birthday,” Tsitsipas was quoted by the ATP website as saying. “I cannot believe it. … I couldn’t achieve anything better in one tournament, beating all those high-ranked players, playing amazing tennis. I’m pretty sure the crowd didn’t expect that. I personally didn’t expect that.”
After lifting the champion’s trophy at the Next Gen ATP Finals in early November, following his four-set victory over de Minaur, the top-seeded Tsitsipas reflected on his breakout season.
“I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to play here in Milan and be the second winner of the tournament. It’s a very special moment. I think I can get some confidence out of it and play better in the future.
“Each year, I aim for more than the year before. It keeps me motivated to keep going higher.”