Stefanos Tsitsipas has already been described by Novak Djokovic as having “the features of a champion” and on Sunday he hopes to prove that the Serbian’s laudatory reference was not a misjudgment.
The charismatic 22-year-old, one of the sport’s widely touted “NextGens”, is looking to deliver the first major blow to the old guard when he takes on the world number one for the Roland Garros title.
“He’s a hard worker, dedicated and kind,” Djokovic said.
“He is very smart and wise. I love that he is more than just a tennis player and is always looking to learn from his experience and understand something new about himself.
“It’s the trait of a champion, of someone who has great potential to be world number one, win Slam tournaments and be a great ambassador for the sport. “
Blond-haired and six feet 4 inches (1.93 m) tall, Tsitsipas is the sport’s perfect public face and is expected to be the natural heir to Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
He is already the youngest player to defeat all three, completing the admirable task before he turns 21.
He is the first Greek man or woman to compete in a Slam final and already has seven career titles to his name, including the prestigious ATP final in 2019.
However, there is still a lot to prove.
He has only won twice in total in seven meetings with Djokovic, the Serbian winning both matches on clay – in five sets in the semi-finals of Roland Garros in 2020, then in Rome on the eve of Roland Garros.
When Djokovic and Nadal reached the final in Rome, the Serb only half-joked: “Young Next Gen? Me, Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer) reinvent the Next Gen. We are the Next Gen. “
Tsitsipas is 2-7 against Nadal, although he came back from two sets to beat the Spaniard in the Australian Open quarter-finals and was one match point away from breaking mastery of the Spaniard on the clay of Barcelona.
Against Federer, he is 2-2 after winning his last meeting in the 2019 season final in London.
Off the court, Tsitsipas is studious, often contemplative.
He speaks Greek, English and Russian and says he wants to master Spanish and Chinese.
But his outlook on life and sport is marked by a near-death experience in 2016 when he nearly drowned off the coast of Crete.
He and a friend were in danger of being swept away by the current.
The boys were saved by the player’s father, Apostolos, who swam and guided them to safety.
“If we were to die and lose our lives that day, we should do it together. He was a hero, ”Tsitsipas said in a video describing the incident.
“It was the day I saw life from a different perspective. Then I remember how much it changed me psychologically. “
© 2021 AFP