PARIS (Reuters) – Beware a Greek bearing a backhand from the Gods.
Stefanos Tsitsipas most probably will not win the French Open this year but such have been the strides he has made the 19-year-old could be a dangerous floater in the men’s draw.
A year ago the Athenian was ranked 205th but arrived at Roland Garros as the world number 40.
The first Greek player to reach the ATP’s top 100 he made everyone sit up and take notice in April when he became the first from his country for 45 years to contest an ATP Tour final, losing to Rafa Nadal in Barcelona.
On the way he beat then world number seven Dominic Thiem and Spanish claycourt specialist Pablo Carreno Busta.
A week later he beat then world number eight Kevin Anderson on the way to the semi-finals in Estoril.
So there will be plenty of attention on him next week in his fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance.
Should he beat Spanish qualifier Carlos Taberner and record a first grand slam win it could set up the standout match of the second round — against Austrian Thiem, the only man to beat Nadal on clay in the past 12 months.
Former French Open champion Jim Courier, working as a commentator for ITV, will be having a word with his producer to make sure he is calling that potential clash.
“He is really talented, a great flowing backhand and he’s about six foot three so he’s about the perfect build for the modern game, and he played awfully well in Barcelona,” Courier told Reuters by telephone.
“He has a tough draw with Thiem second round. He’s a danger for sure though even if Thiem is such a physical player. I hope I get to call that match if they get there.”
Tsitsipas’s rise has sparked a wave of interest in tennis in Greece with the teenager saying “it has gone viral”.
“Many people were talking about it and I had plenty of interviews that I did on big channels in Greece for big media centres. It got people’s attention,” he said recently.
“There were some politicians who congratulated me, so I was very happy I got so much attention. It makes me motivated to do even better in the future, and become even more popular. I hope to inspire more people to play tennis in Greece.”
Tsitsipas’s easy-on-the-eye style, especially a stylish backhand he can hit with searing pace, has helped him push into the Next Gen of players who are expected to take the men’s game into the future — the likes of world number three Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov and Chung Hyeon.
He beat Shapovalov in Monte Carlo this year — a result that sparked his claycourt season.
“I have done big improvements since last year,” Tsitsipas, who trains at the Mouratoglou Academy in France, said. “I have maybe stepped into another level.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)