Stefanos Tsitsipas, The Greek Who Felled the God and is Set to Conquer the World
Tsitsipas’s Hellenic embodiment goes beyond the spectacle of his golden locks and fiery eyes – and on to his God-like performance on the cavernous Rod Laver area – where he plundered Federer in four sets (6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6).
(Image: Aus Open)
It is no fault of ours that one is invariably reminded of a Greek God sculpted in stone when we see the 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas – who after stumping Roger Federer in the fourth round - has now got past Roberto Bautista Agut to enter the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
However, Tsitsipas’s Hellenic embodiment goes beyond the spectacle of his golden locks and fiery eyes – and on to his God-like performance on the cavernous Rod Laver area – where he plundered Federer in four sets (6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6).
With that, the tremors in the tennis world could be felt. Soon after, Federer in a change of plans, announced that he will play a few rounds in the clay courts of the French Open. Notwithstanding, Federer’s fourth consecutive loss in Slams also brought up the haranguing question of his retirement to the fore once again.
But for the 14th ranked Tsitsipas, this is just the beginning of a journey to the top of the grinding ATP circuit.
For all good reasons, Roger Federer continues to serve as an inspiration for an entire generation of young players worldwide. Thus, it’s no surprise that Tsitispas, is one of them. He spent hours glued to Youtube to watch Federer’s matches to understand his game patterns, the way he moved on court and the mental side of the game.
Even though he tried to downplay his classic efforts for which he should be cast in Greek stone back home, Tsitsipas, was evidently and without question, full of purpose in the match of his life. Despite narrowly losing the first set, he chased every ball, cut out the severity of Federer’s one handed back hands by showing he possessed that weapon too, and moved up to the net often—almost as if to taunt the champion prowling on the other side.
In the end it was difficult to figure out how Tsitsipas pulled it off, considering that statistics reveal how fierce the battle was. Each matching shot for shot, one man’s forehand winner inspiring an equally delectable backhand down the line and a cross court winner followed a few seconds later with an angled backhand volley.
The end result? Tsitsipas had 20 aces to Federer’s 12, forehand winners were 15 to 15, backhand winners 11 to 10 and a total of 61 winners by Federer to Tsitsipas’ 62. It seemed that in the end, it was the 40 unforced errors on Federer’s part (as compared to 21 of the Greek) that sent him down and out.
Holding on to this this tenacity and self-belief, the Hellenic hero marched to the quarters to get the better of the Spanish veteran of many close battles, Batuista Agut, in four sets (7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6) and has reached the semi-final of a Slam for the first time.
Agut, with his icy elegance almost ran Tsitsipas aground, but the Greek youngster showed the will to stay alive, running down the attempted winners along the wings, scrambling to pick the drops and deposit in in the far corner.
“When someone asked me at the beginning of this year what my targets are for the year, I said semis of a Slam and here I am, living a dream,” Tsitsipas told interviewer Jim Courier courtside post match.
Agut actually had more forehand winners (26 to 22) and less unforced errors (32 to 38) and yet, it was his opponent who raised his hand in triumph.
Federer too, seemed to be grabbing attention for all the wrong reasons two days before coming undone in the face of the Hellenic headwinds. It wasn’t his day at all because what captured the world’s attention was not his usual artistry on the court, but a 30 second clip that went viral on the internet.
The video that showed him being stopped by a security guard inside the arena (uploaded by UK Eurospsort) garnered more than 4 million views by the end of the day. To be stopped by a security guard and then by a 21-year-old Greek upstart was all a bit too much for an invincible champ.
So what changed the Greek’s game in the last two years? Is this narrative infused with Greek mythology, or is this hard work?
Tstispas can explain. “My serve has improved a lot. Also it's part of the decision making. I stopped being hesitant of where I'm going to serve, what I'm going to do. I feel comfortable going anywhere. I have improved physically. I can play longer, be aggressive more than before. I actually feel like now, with the Stefanos of one and a half years ago, I have more confidence. I do know what I'm doing on the court. I think that's a big difference since two years ago,” he said after the match.
Outside the Rod Laver arena, Greek blue and whites were waving as if the world has been once again conquered by the Greeks. The fans, fuelled by pride and beer had enough reason. He is the first Greek to win a match in a Slam, first Greek to win an ATP title, first Greek in the top 100 and of course the first to reach the last four of a Slam.
The six foot four inch Greek is as casual and delightful as it gets, full of joy of life, blogging often, shooting with his drone and uploading them in his Instagram vlog. He realises how his career is important to his country which does not have too many heroes like him.
Perceptive and philosophical, he said how he felt the same as India’s Prajneesh Gunneswaran, who said how much a win by him would matter to Indian tennis fans back home.
In tennis, packs of new feral young players all poised to dislodge the established order, Tsitsipas and Zeverev look all set to become the top two. Both see tennis as a game and nothing beyond that and this gives them an effortless ease.
For Tsitsipas too, it may be just a tennis match which he has won, but it’s also the opening of a new world. The tennis world preparing to say good bye to Andy Murray and soon Federer, so having this Greek pillar of a man mean a lot.
Author is a senior journalist. All views are personal.
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