A near drowning, a family bond, artistic flair: The forces behind Tsitsipas
Even before Stefanos Tsitsipas entered rare territory on Wednesday night by becoming just the third player to give Rafael Nadal a two-set head start before beating him, the young Greek has had tennis pundits sitting up and taking notice.
Aged 22 and a fixture in the men’s top 10 for nearly two years, Tsitsipas is high in the bracket of players tipped to fill the void as the eventual waning of the big three of the men’s game – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal – takes full effect.
Stefanos Tsitsipas is embraced by his father Apostolos after beating Rafael Nadal.Credit:Getty Images
“When this mechanism magically activates, as it did that day, miracles occur … an essential condition for this to happen is the unconditional faith we have in what we do and what we love. What happened confirmed the love and faith we have for one another, that the sacrifices we make are not in vain.”
Separately, in a video post, Tsitsipas himself has said: “If we were supposed to die and lose our lives that day, we would have to do it together. He was a hero … That was the day I saw life with a different perspective. I remember after that how much psychologically it changed me.”
A family affair
Tsitsipas is the product of tennis-loving parents, and his lineage helps explains why he is where he is. His mother, Julia Salnikova, represented the Soviet Union while his father Apostolos – who you will almost always see courtside – has coached him extensively.
His parents met at an ATP tournament in Athens. Stefanos Tsitsipas was born in the Greek capital and, similar to other tour stars, first picked up a racquet at a tender age. He has three siblings – brothers Petros and Pavlos, and sister Elisavet. The family lives and breathes tennis.
He has had a long involvement with the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in France. A world-renowned coach, Mouratoglou is the man behind Serena Williams and, in recent times, has also regularly been in the Tsitsipas corner, including at this Australian Open.
There’s also a Melbourne familial link for Tsitsipas: his maternal grandfather was an Olympic champion in Melbourne, playing as a striker for the Soviet Union’s soccer team in 1956.
Tsitsipas reacts after beating Roger Federer in 2019 at the Australian Open.Credit:Getty Images
Wednesday’s epic four-hour win was not the first time Tsitsipas has notched an eye-catching victory over a tennis great in Melbourne. At the Australian Open two years ago the then 20-year-old defeated Roger Federer, who was pushing for a third straight title. That win came after a breakout 2018 season for Tsitsipas, who closed out the year by winning the Next Gen ATP Finals, an event that showcases future stars.
At the Open in January 2019, Tsitsipas was humbled in the semi-finals by Nadal, winning just six games. Beforehand, he knew he was in for a tough night. “He makes you suffer on the court. He’s a big fighter, fights over every single point,” Tsitsipas explained to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald about the challenge of playing the Spaniard.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 0-40, or 40-0 … his spirit on the court is, whew, extraordinary, you won’t find anything like it in tennis. Energy levels and everything … he makes your life really tough when you’re on the court against him.”
He was proved right. Afterwards, the Greek, seeking to explain his capitulation, said: “I kind of felt empty in my brain.”
A full 24 months on, however, Nadal has two more years in his legs and Tsitsipas is two more years experienced. What was then an inter-generational contest in 2019 became a compelling quarter-final match-up in 2021.
Behind the lens
Tsitsipas has a love for photography and technology. He hosts and produces his own podcast, A Greek Abroad, and unsurprisingly has his own YouTube channel.
When he speaks about his artistic bent, his eyes light up and his passion shines through. In Melbourne three years ago, when he was still a fledgling player, he fed his passion by buying a new camera – funded with his earnings after a first-round defeat.
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