January 2019. Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, changes dimension by reaching the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. With, on the way, a flagship victory, against Roger Federer, then title holder. A dream start, before the alarm clock rings suddenly when he crosses paths with Rafael Nadal. He only registers six games, ends on a bubble and measures what still separates him from a great title. At a press conference, the Greek appears devastated. Nothing of what he had accomplished mattered to him.
Twenty-one months later, after some disappointments that we will qualify as a growth crisis, Tsitsipas found the way to a last major four at the Roland Garros. He almost met the same fate. With one point, this match point saved while Djokovic was used to fold the affair in three sets. But it is undoubtedly no coincidence that he was able to find the resources to give another dimension to this match, to the point of glimpsing a possible insane feat, beating Djokovic by having been led two sets to nothing.
Rome’s wound returned
Stefanos Tsitsipas is growing up. As a player and as a man. This is how he sees it. Apart from the final report (he lost), everything is different. And the beating of Melbourne 2019 seems far to him. “At the Australian Open I was a kid, and now I’m turning into an adult, he summed up Friday night. I’ve been through a lot since then. I played matches, progressed physically. Most of all, I know and understand when things are going well or not. I am more relaxed on the court. When I see videos of me from two to three years ago, I see that I have matured a lot.”
Maturity also means not making a mountain out of a challenge, whatever it is, an achievement in every victory or a drama in every defeat. But that does not exclude lucidity. On the contrary. Whether it is good or bad. “I had an amazing comeback today, he said, but I would have liked to have solved some things earlier. I tried different things than I normally do, and it was wrong. So I went back to my usual way of playing. And from there, I played much better, except in the 5th set, where I was no longer there physically.”
In this last act, Tsitsipas just had time to lead 1-0. The only time in the game where he was ahead in scoring. Then he stopped playing a game. “Unfortunately, towards the end of the match, an injury I had suffered in Rome woke up, explains the Greek. But I’m still very happy to have come back as I did.”
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Hate defeat, but use it
So would he accept defeat more, depending on the circumstances? Would victory no longer be the only reading grid for young Stefanos? “That’s a really good question, I was thinking about it the other day, evokes the one who will find the world Top 5 on Monday. If people know me, it’s because I win, because I found ways to win matches.”
And victory remains its driving force, its reason for playing: “If I didn’t win, I don’t know what I would do with my life, but tennis wouldn’t be so much a part of my life. Winning has given me a lot, with good sides and bad sides. There are some more negative aspects, but without winning, I wouldn’t have a sponsor. Without the victories, I wouldn’t be traveling the world. If you lose, you pretty much stay put. This is the reason I hate to lose. In fact, I don’t think anyone likes to lose. It’s weird to love to lose!“
Failing to accommodate it, he now manages to apprehend it differently. To derive some benefit from it. “Failure is a very good lesson, he concludes. If you stop, you think, you can return it to your advantage. It is thus a lesson in life that allows you to move forward to become stronger.“No doubt, Tsitsipas has grown up.