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Stefanos Tsitsipas, So Near the Greats, but Not One of Them Yet

He has an impressive game, with a dominating serve and a huge wingspan. Winning a major is next on his list.

Stefanos Tsitsipas stood behind the courtside sofa in the O2 Arena on Sept. 22 watching Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray practice their doubles game.

Tsitsipas applauded when Federer hit a classic backhand down-the-line passing shot — a stroke Tsitsipas has modeled his own picturesque one-handed backhand after — well out of Murray’s reach. Tsitsipas looked saucer-eyed when Federer hit another winner, this time a backhand volley off a Djokovic midcourt half volley.

Eventually, Tsitsipas, of Greece, couldn’t resist any longer, and he climbed into the umpire’s chair so he could get a better view of the four legends who would be among his teammates in the Laver Cup, starting the next day.

“I’m stunned by their level of play,” Tsitsipas said later. “Just admiring [Federer’s] natural ability to kiss the ball with his racket. That’s a beautiful thing to see.”

There are many tennis experts who say that Tsitsipas’s game is also a sight to behold. With an enormous wingspan on the forehand and backhand, he looks almost eaglelike as he strikes the ball. He glides rather than rumbles around the court and uses a hammer of a serve to set up points that can be won with topspin and brute force.

Tsitsipas knows that his game is particularly effective indoors, especially given that he won the ATP Finals in 2019 played at the O2 Arena in London.

“I’m a player that can serve big, and I have a big forehand,” he said. “I have good placement around the court, and it helps that I’m not a player that stays back. I have so many options out there that I can use to close off points.”

Diego Schwartzman, who lost to Tsitsipas at the Laver Cup, said that Tsitsipas was more patient and felt the ball well.

“He has that combination where he can be aggressive and be patient,” Schwartzman said. “He has many chances to win Grand Slams.”

Tsitsipas reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January.Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
It is the majors that have eluded Tsitsipas. At 24, he has already been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world and currently sits at No. 5. He enters the Rolex Paris Masters having won two titles this year, in Majorca and in Monte Carlo, Monaco. He was also runner-up in five other tournaments.

While Tsitsipas reached the final at the 2021 French Open, losing to Djokovic, and has reached four major semifinals, including at this year’s Australian Open, he has often faltered when it mattered most. At the United States Open in August, he was upset in the first round by 94th-ranked Daniel Elahi Galan, a match in which he dropped the first two sets 6-0, 6-1.

“I don’t think I have ever played so bad in my career,” Tsitsipas said. “And I know what happened.”

The issue at the Open, Tsitsipas said, was his decision to experiment with new rackets, racket head weight, strings and string tension. The reason was an elbow injury late last year that forced him to retire in the first round of the Paris Masters, pull out midtournament at the ATP Finals and then have surgery after the season. Since then he has been trying to find the right equipment combination that will enhance his game but not hurt his arm.

“The surgery was difficult to come back from, and there was a lot of doubting at the time,” Tsitsipas said. “There are certain decisions and moves that I need to take in order to prevent getting my elbow in that state again. But I should not have so much experimentation going on. It took away a lot of my confidence.”

Tsitsipas is keenly aware that he is one of the best players never to have won a major.

“I know where my tennis is capable of reaching and which zone I can be at,” he said. “I guess I’ll learn from all the mistakes. It was something that I don’t want to replicate again because it was psychological suffering. Those are opportunities that I need to grab.”

Introspection is important to Tsitsipas’s personality. Asked about his favorite philosopher and his preferred quote, Tsitsipas didn’t hesitate.

“I like the Socrates one,” he said. “‘I know only one thing: That I know nothing.’”

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