Tsitsipas: Clay is a spiritual type of surface

 - Alex Sharp

The 2021 finalist returned to the third round in straight sets over Roberto Carballes Baena.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2023, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The process of how clay courts are maintained in between sets, with the line sweeping and water sprinkling is pretty hypnotising.

For philosophical Stefanos Tsitsipas, this tennis ritual is "ingrained" in him.

"It's a cleansing of the soul," said the world No.5.  "It's just like a knife. You let the old pass and you start with the new.

"It's a great feeling when you step out on a newly made clay court that is clean. All the lines are perfect. It makes for a very pleasing visual experience.

"But there's also beauty on when the courts are dirty and messed up and you can see all of the footwork and effort that has been put in and you have a visual of that, of how much work has been put in in order for you to succeed in what you do.

"It's a spiritual type of surface."

The Greek booked his third-round ticket - for a fifth consecutive year at Roland-Garros - with a reasonably comfortable 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 victory over world No.57 Roberto Carballes Baena on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Wednesday.

Despite all the sacrifice and endeavour involved in reaching the top, Tsitsipas is adamant a 'fun factor' is imperative to cope with the tennis lifestyle of solitude.

“We do this everyday. There’s lots of suffering, lots of pain that goes into this work that we put in," added the 24-year-old, who awaits Diego Schwartzman or Nuno Borges in the last 32.

“I always call it the show, sometimes it can be easy to forget this is meant to be fun, less of work and more a game. We’re not in an office, we’re outside playing tennis and travelling all round the world.

“This is a very special job we get to do and adding a little bit more fun into it makes it more lasting and contributes to our well-being very much.”

In the first round on Sunday, Tsitsipas notched his 50th career Grand Slam win and on Wednesday the world No.5 toasted a 20th Roland-Garros victory. These milestones present the two-time major finalist with reminders of his standout success amidst the week-in-week-out grind.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, second round, Roland-Garros 2023© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"I get excited when I see personal records being set and broken," stated Tsitsipas. "Of course it's a great satisfaction to be seeing those stats, because there is so much work behind it, and sometimes it's difficult to grasp the fact that it all happened so quickly.

"I just wish to keep on going. I wish to be healthy and to be fighting for more titles and breaking personal records but also records that haven't been set before in tennis." 

The 2021 runner-up dived into Rafael Nadal's autobiography the other day, seeking out segments he can relate to. Like the 14-time Roland-Garros champion, Tsitsipas has developed the art of adapting during the constant drive for improvement and silverware.

"Tennis can be very complicated for some, especially people that see more of the glass empty rather than the glass full," mused the Greek.

"It's a mindset. There are moments where it feels like a mountain, and I have been through that, and I have had phases in my career where it felt like a giant mountain.

"There are other phases of my career where it just felt so effortless and so simplified and easy that it's just a joy to be playing the game. Tennis is just trying to figure it out; what works best for you, where your strengths are, how can you pull through when difficult circumstances or moments come about."

Tsitsipas fell to the same man, Novak Djokovic, in both of his Grand Slam final appearances, at Roland-Garros in 2021 and at the Australian Open back in January. The 24-year-old knows exactly what it takes technically, physically and psychologically to compete at the summit.

"I think if you're a player that can perform big on pressure moments, that is the thing that is going to just give you a good career in tennis," added the Monaco-based Tsitsipas. 

"There are a few guys that can play good under pressure, especially in big, tight moments, and you have to have the mental strength of a Navy SEAL to pull it through. You have to have the physique, the lungs of a marathon runner. You have to have the power of a football player.

"There are just so many little components that you have to link up in order to make this unbelievable player where you allow yourself to be unstoppable."