Tsitsipas: I want to do greater things, not just in tennis

Greek star talks to rolandgarros.com about his off-court pursuits, his 2021 goals, and finding fulfillment on a 'lonely' tour

Stefanos Tsitsipas in the light at Roland-Garros 2020.©Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

Many tennis players are feeling restless on tour these days as they come to terms with a ‘new normal’ that involves mandatory quarantines, strict bubble protocols, regular testing and social distancing.

The busiest globetrotters in the world of sport are moving from city to city under new parameters, crossing oceans only to be confined to their hotel rooms between practices and matches.

Stefanos Tsitsipas usually spends his time away from the court roaming the streets of whichever city he is in, snapping photos or filming footage for his Youtube vlogs.

The Greek world No.6 is a self-described “people person” and has had to find novel ways to tap into his creative side and make up for the lack of human interaction while spending 19 hours per day in quarantine in Melbourne – over a period of two weeks – ahead of the ATP Cup and the Australian Open.

“I can deal with it. I’m not complaining. I’m strong mentally, I can handle pressure,” Tsitsipas told rolandgarros.com in a Zoom call from his hotel room Down Under.

“It’s an extra reason for me to put in more creative, deeper work that hasn’t really been considered before. So there’s a bonus.”

Already considered the tour’s resident philosopher and filmmaker, Tsitsipas’ latest artistic venture has taken him into the world of music.

‘Nostalgia and emotion’

Unlike the rap songs and pop hits released by his peers during the tour’s hiatus, Tsitsipas’ recent creations are two lofi hip-hop tracks, featuring the genre’s typical immersive, mellow beats.

The 22-year-old’s first release on his SoundCloud station is titled ‘My Affection for You” and it includes a dialogue between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

“I enjoy music. I feel like every person has his own identity and every person has his own taste in music,” explains Tsitsipas.

“I got influenced a lot by other tracks and other albums I’ve been listening to so I decided to make my own song, based on certain parts of my life recently.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia, a lot of emotions and a story to be told through a song and I managed to pull it off, it turned out to be pretty good. I’m happy with it.”

A wider impact

Tsitsipas is one of the most disciplined and dedicated tennis players of his generation. He went from Next Gen champion to ATP Finals champion within a year, and has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals so far in his young career, including an impressive run to the last four at Roland-Garros three months ago.

Striking a balance between focusing on his tennis and expanding his off-court interests sounds like a daunting task, but Tsitsipas is determined to make it work. His non-tennis pursuits are a vital component of his development.

“I know it’s a great career I have, I’ve done some good things in tennis but obviously I’m just getting started with it and there is plenty of way to go and many more tournaments and opportunities for me to be given,” says the Monaco resident.

“So I always try and see the bigger picture – okay I do play tennis, but what if I can have an influence, or something to offer besides my tennis and I always try to focus on that. No matter if I play well or bad, it’s in my nature, it’s part of me.

“I want to expand, I want to do greater things, not just in the field of tennis, but also outside of it. And through music, through vlogging, through photography, through building a company, stuff like that… it allows for connecting people, it allows for ideas to be shared.

“I see it as something so positive, so bright for humanity, for human beings, to just be able to create a space or a place that will allow for humanitarian development as well.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas' shadow during Roland-Garros 2020©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

All about determination

As he prepares for the first major of the 2021 season, Tsitsipas reflects positively on his most recent Grand Slam appearance that saw him enjoy his deepest run to date at Roland-Garros.

After battling from two-sets-to-love down in his opener against Jaume Munar, Tsitsipas did not drop a set until he fell 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 1-6 to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. He walked off Court Philippe-Chatrier carrying a leg injury that hampered him in the deciding set against the world No.1.

“It was sad that it ended that way. But at the same time I’m proud because I fought very, very hard. I was the determined Stefanos, I was the Stefanos that went out and was fully focused and committed to my work, and to my craft. So that was excellent,” says Tsitsipas.

“That was a very, very good tournament, I really hope I have more like this in the future, and maybe a little bit more luck, that wouldn’t hurt.”

Challenging Rafa

Tsitsipas has won at least one trophy in each of the last three seasons and is hoping to land “a big title” in 2021. He does have a more specific target in mind for this year, though.

“A really good goal would be maybe to beat Rafa [Nadal] on clay, or at Roland-Garros, that would be a really nice goal,” says Tsitsipas, who would be up against the Spaniard’s outrageous 100-2 win-loss record on Parisian clay.  

“I think everyone would love that, especially me. He’s such a difficult player to play against, very difficult, very consistent, incredible fighting spirit. I consider myself a fighter but he’s completely next level, incomparable. That would be a realistic, I hope, goal, not too much to ask.”

Tsitsipas says each member of the ‘Big Three’ poses a different degree of difficulty, and jokes that prayer is often the only solution when he’s up against one of them on their best day. But he singles out Nadal as being his toughest opponent.

“They don’t call Rafa the most difficult player to beat accidentally, there is something behind it,” Tsitsipas added. “For me personally, he has a very heavy ball and he is just anticipating very well, very good movement on the court as well. He spins, his agility on the court is very impressive and the way he fights, he’s just never going to give up, that makes him very very difficult.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas fist pumping©Nicolasd Gouhier/FFT

Connecting with Guga

There is another Roland-Garros great that Tsitsipas admires and that is Guga Kuerten.

About a year ago, Tsitsipas reached out to the Brazilian – a three-time champion in Paris – to see if he would be interested in joining his coaching team.

Tsitsipas is coached by his father Apostolos as well as Kerei Abakar, who helps him when he is at the Mouratoglou academy in the south of France. The partnership with Kuerten did not materialise but Tsitsipas knows he can rely on the 44-year-old’s advice when needed.

The young Greek prides himself on his ability to “read people’s energy and intentions” and says he does not trust others easily.

“Guga Kuerten is someone that I really admire. When I started playing, I remember many people were saying that we have a similar game style, similar hair – although mine is a bit more wavy, not that curly,” Tsitsipas says with a smile.  

“We’ve spoken a bit on Twitter. He’s a busy guy, has a family to take care of. So his schedule and daily life don’t really allow him to be part of a potential collaboration. But he told me he’s always willing to help, which is really nice of him, whatever concerns, whatever help I need, digitally he can provide anything and that was very nice of him, I appreciated that. And he’s a lovely person. His ambience and his energy speaks for itself.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas and his mask during Rolex Paris Masters 2020©Philippe Montigny/FFT

Combating the loneliness

While Tsitsipas is well-equipped when it comes to spending time indoors during these difficult times, he opened up at the end of last season about how life on tour, in general, has become a lonely experience with the pandemic sweeping through the entire planet.

He still feels that way.

“It is lonely, and it has never been lonelier than now,” he admits.

“It lacks spirituality, it lacks soul, it lacks people. As we know our world is formed by people, and people that inspire other people and when there is not enough of that, life is kind of blunt.

“It’s been the same scenario, the same thing over and over again, kind of seems dead, every city I go, it feels like the movie ‘Last Man on Earth’ that I really like and I used to watch when I was younger. And I don’t really like that vibe.

“I kind of feel like life right now is standing still. There is no progress, there is nothing that’s moving forward and it makes me very sad.

“Loneliness, I never really felt I would feel it at such a grand scale and that I would have to be [part of] the generation that has to experience something like this, because it hasn’t happened in hundreds of years before.”

Still, Tsitsipas is able to find fulfillment.

“There is always a bright side. It’s not always the dark side. You always have to look on the things that make you happy and the simple things. You don’t always have to be filled with success and trophies and money. Just appreciate yourself, appreciate what you’re capable of, your values, the people around you, their values, and make it work and be happy with it,” he adds.

For now, he plans on making more music, while putting some finishing touches to his game before kicking off his season by leading Team Greece against Australia in their opening ATP Cup clash in Melbourne on February 3.

He signs off with a promise: “More inspirational songs coming up, with deeper meaning, just staying creative, that’s what I like to do.”