By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) – World number six Stefanos Tsitsipas has been shooting up the rankings this year and with two titles bagged in 2019, including his first on clay, the carefree young Greek is a force to be reckoned with at the French Open.
With a powerful one-handed backhand, an extremely versatile game and a determination to match, the 20-year-old with the surfer boy blond curls and looks has been a breath of much-needed fresh air on the tour in the past two years.
The Athenian has quickly established himself alongside German Alexander Zverev as one of the men most likely to succeed the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the very top of the game.
Zverev, 22, and Austrian Dominic Thiem, 25, have been established in the top 10 for a longer time but despite their strong tour presence they have yet to win a Grand Slam.
This has raised questions over their ability to deliver on the biggest tennis stage and the level of their drive to finally knock 30 somethings Federer, Nadal and Djokovic off their perch.
With a semi-final appearance in Australia this year Tsitsipas has achieved more than his rival Zverev, who has never progressed past the last eight of a Grand Slam.
And twice French Open runner-up Alex Corretja believes the Greek is the most likely bet to shake it up in Paris.
Speaking exclusively to Reuters, Eurosport tennis expert Corretja said: “Whoever wants to beat him will have to fight so much because he is physically strong, he knows how to play on clay, he mixes it up well.
“Maybe this year it’s still a bit early to say he’ll win the tournament but semi-finals? Yes. He is in very good form but this is the first time he arrives at a Grand Slam with people believing he can go far. Let’s see how he deals with that.”
Tsitsipas enjoyed a breakthrough season last year to jump from 91 to 15th in the rankings and currently sits at a career high sixth.
He has recorded wins over Federer and Nadal in 2019, including beating the Spaniard on his favourite clay in Madrid, while also winning the titles on the Marseille hard courts and Estoril’s clay.
He also reached his first claycourt ATP Masters 1000 final in Madrid, falling to Djokovic.
“I am satisfied with my results since Estoril. I had a lot of matches on clay. I think that’s important coming into a tournament like the French Open,” Tsitsipas said.
With the best warm-up he could have hoped for ahead of the French Open, Tsitsipas has every right to dream big.
“I think I learned a lot these three weeks,” he said. “It’s good to come into a Grand Slam knowing what you did well, what you did wrong, trying to concentrate on those things in order to avoid the same mistakes in the big events.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; additional reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)