Tsitsipas happy to play the 'unpopular' card

 - Alex Sharp

2021 finalist keen to stop Djokovic from breaking Grand Slam record in Paris

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Julien Crosnier/FFT

As Novak Djokovic pursues a men's all-time record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title in Paris, Stefanos Tsitsipas has no qualms playing the villain trying to stop the Serb from making history by clinching a maiden major title for himself.

Tsitsipas, who led Djokovic by two sets in the Roland-Garros final two years ago before eventually losing in five, was asked about his rival's quest for No.23 during Media Day on Friday.

"I don't go to sleep at night thinking about that. Doesn't really cross my mind," replied Tsitsipas with a smirk.

"It would be great for him. If he's capable of doing it, massive respect. But what I'm out here trying to do is just focus on myself and perhaps be the guy that everyone will hate one day. In a good way.

"As they say, you become very unpopular when you start winning."


Some of Tsitsipas' best results have come on clay. Besides reaching the final at Roland-Garros, the Greek world No.5 captured two Masters 1000 crowns on the red dirt - both in Monte-Carlo - and can be considered one of the best clay-courters in the field.

Back on Paris' terre battue, Tsitsipas can’t contain his passion for Roland-Garros.

"We have another exciting edition of the Roland-Garros this year, and I think every player is excited to be participating and giving himself a chance to do well in one of the most chic Grand Slams of the year," mused Tsitsipas, who opens his campaign on Sunday against Czech lefty Jiri Vesely (second match on Court Philippe-Chatrier).

"I'm extremely honoured to be playing again and being part of this whole Parisian experience. I think it's a tournament that has a very special place in my heart, starting my journey on clay courts and getting to be literally in the palace of clay courts and the best place that has to offer tennis in terms of tradition and history.

"This is something that ignites me."

The 24-year-old has every reason to be pumped up following a strong showing on the road to Roland-Garros.

A run to the Barcelona final, halted by world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, was sandwiched by quarter-final spots in Monte-Carlo and Madrid. The Greek curtailed his lead-up with a semi-final in Rome to finish with a 13-4 record on the European clay swing.

There might not be a title in that mix, however, irrespective of results, Tsitsipas is beaming to be back in the major arena on clay.

"It's all about getting into the mindset of the Roland-Garros final that I had here. It was a great two weeks of tennis for me, and I do remember how I did things and I do remember what worked better for me during these two weeks in Paris," said the Monaco-based player.

"Of course it's important to recreate it and stay disciplined along the journey. There are matches that are going to be difficult. Some of them might not like clay as much as I do, and some have actually picked up on clay, one of them being Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev. Guys like Djokovic always are a threat.

"My capacity is big and grand, and I can feel it. I just need to get a few good first matches to keep believing that I actually can do something this year."

The 24-year-old has a shot at becoming world No.1 this tournament but would need to lift the trophy, alongside a third round or earlier exit for Alcaraz and a pre-semi-final departure for Medvedev.

"I think taking the right initiatives tournament after tournament is eventually going to give it to me one day," Tsitsipas told Arab News of the No. 1 ranking back in December. "But I’m not here really for the sprint, I’m here for the marathon."

Tsitsipas is gunning for Grand Slam glory this fortnight in Paris without coach Mark Philippoussis in his corner.

The Australian announced on Instagram earlier this week the collaboration, which produced a major final spot in Melbourne last in January, has come to a conclusion.

"It was a mutual decision. We spent countless of hours on the phone talking a few weeks ago. It's never easy having two coaches on the court," said Tsitsipas, who is primarily coached by his father Apostolos.

"Sometimes it can get quite hectic having two coaches share opinions. When you have a lot of people around you, it can get very draining for your mental energy, too.

"I love Mark. He's an amazing person, and we still stay in touch with him very often. I'm happy with this decision. Of course, I'm sure he supports me, and he's there for me whenever I need anything."