FLUSHING— The gates of the US Open were open to the public for Community Day on September 8. Among the young players on the courts, Stefanos Tsitsipas is one to watch. The #1 ranked junior played his third round match on Court 13, winning in straight sets 6-2, 7-5 against Germany’s Marvin Moeller.
The National Herald was courtside for the match which featured some incredible shots by the young Greek player. Fans in the stands were impressed with the high quality of play calling out “Beautiful shot!” several times for Tsitsipas. The 18-year-old, juggling schoolwork and tennis, showed remarkable poise on the court, moving well, and showing a variety to his game that many players lack.
When some players are content to stay back and play long baseline rallies, Tsitsipas will hit an approach shot and come into net. He showed good touch in the points at the net and power from the baseline. Playing with intense concentration, Tsitsipas is clearly a player to be reckoned with on the junior circuit.
When it seemed the second set might get out of hand, he regrouped quickly, not letting the mental aspect of the game affect his obvious technical skill. It shouldn’t be long before Tsitsipas is a household name, at least among the tennis fans of the world. TNH spoke with his father and coach Apostolos Tsitsipas before the match about the grueling tennis schedule and the young Tsitsipas’ dedication to the sport. He noted the hot, humid conditions and hoped his son would play later in the day when the temperature cooled off.
Stefanos Tsitsipas was born and raised in Athens, and has been coached by his father since childhood. His father’s family hails from Thessaly. The family is an athletic one, Stefanos’ mother, Julija Apostoli, was a former pro tennis player, and grandfather, Sergei Salnikov, was a Russian soccer player and coach who won the gold at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Stefano’s younger brother also plays tennis, and is ranked number one in his age group.
The family travels with Stefano, his dad told TNH, having weighed the options, it was important to support Stefanos and his tennis career any way they could. “It’s good to be ambitious,” he noted, “But it should be a healthy ambition, not comparing yourself to others because everyone is different, each child is different. Step by step, you follow a path, the road is different for each person, but what is most significant is whether or not you’re happy.”
Traveling 30 weeks a year on the tennis tour is tough, but the family helps Stefanos deal with the stress of being in a new place practically every week. His dad also cautions his son to take his time when making big decisions, like whether to go to college or turn pro. Several offers from American universities, including John McEnroe’s alma mater Stanford, along with full scholarships for tennis may be tempting to some, but Stefanos is focused on his goal. He wants to play tennis. His dad pointed out that he is decisive, and there are no half measures for Stefanos. “He has to give 100%,” his father said. So far it seems to be working.
In 2016, he won the first Grand Slam tennis title ever for Greece with his junior boys’ doubles win, along with Estonian Kenneth Raisma, at Wimbledon. As reported on the US Open website, Stefanos would like to inspire more Greeks to play the sport he loves, “I play for myself, and for my country. I want to see more kids playing tennis like I did and make the sport grow.”
His dad also sees Greece as ideal for tennis especially with its mild climate. Where else can tennis be played outdoors more than 250 days a year? Incentives and support are needed in Greece to get kids playing and keep them playing. Encouragement, in the form of awarding prizes, can truly make a difference in motivating kids to even higher levels of achievement. For Stefanos, the next step is moving up in the ATP rankings.
Once he makes it to the Top 200, he can play in the qualifying tournament for the Australian Open where the Greek community will undoubtedly appreciate his efforts, as they did last year when Stefanos played an exhibition match against Greek-Australian pro Thanasi Kokkinakis. His father noted the huge crowd and the support from the diaspora Greeks was unexpected but deeply appreciated. Stefano’s continuing success is an example and a point of pride for all Greeks.
On Friday, he won his quarterfinal match against his doubles partner Kenneth Raisma 6-1, 7-6 (7-4). Next, he faces Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime in the semifinals.