Tsitsipas leads young guns through in Melbourne

Healthy rivalry the key as next generation show signs of breaking through at last

Stefanos Tsitsipas roaring during his second round match at the Australian Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

When you are trying to get to the top of the game, there’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition among your peers to help push you along.

In Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov, Alex de Minaur and others, the young guns are coming fast.

Tsitsipas reached the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over Viktor Troicki of Serbia.

A legion of fans wrapped in Greece flags crammed into a corner of Court 3 and they helped Tsitipas over the line against an experienced opponent.

Tsitsipas, Khachanov, Coric and Medvedev are all ranked inside the world’s top 20 and each time one of them does well, the others sit up and take notice.

“If they can make it, I feel like I can make it.“

“For sure, it inspires me,” he said in Melbourne this week. “If they can make it, I feel like I can make it. It’s nice to see. I don’t actually feel jealousy or these emotions for them, for my (fellow) younger generation players. I feel proud because they make me a better player. They may make me work harder and want more in my tennis career. So if they’re doing well, it helps me develop as a player, as weird as it may sound.”

Medvedev, seeded in a grand slam for the first time this year at No 15, plays Ryan Harrison in the second round on Thursday.

The Russian recently reached the final in Brisbane and agrees with Tsitsipas that the rivalry between the young guns is spurring them on.

“I think that’s what’s pushing us forward probably, especially if we’re talking about me, Karen (Khachanov) and Andrei (Rublev),” he said. “We’ve known each other since we were eight and starting from 14, we were one of the best in the country. When I see Karen play good, I’m happy for him but I’m always I want to be better than him.

Stefanos Tsitsipas sliding for a drop shot backhand at the Australian Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Chanting between almost every point

“I remember last year, somebody was asking me for the 100th time what my goals were for the end of the season. I was tired of answering the same way, so to play goose, I said: ‘to beat Karen’. And until the last moment, I was first, I gained a lot of points and then I won the Masters (in Paris) so now I want to win a Masters. It’s a really friendly rivalry between us.”

Tsitsipas said he first met two of the Greek fans when he played in Melbourne as a junior in 2015. Chanting between almost every point, their energy helped push Tsitsipas to victory and a third-round meeting with Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia. 

“It’s definitely more of a help than a distraction,” he said. “It’s a big joy to have a big crowd of Greeks to come and support is, feeling like we’re at home. Melbourne is the place we feel the biggest joy, the biggest connection with the people. Having the Greek community is really important, you saw that with Marcos (Baghdatis, who reached the final in 2006). I’m pretty sure it was because of all the people here.”

One more win…

Tsitsipas said he has been enjoying Melbourne’s Greek cuisine throughout his stay so far and even said he would like to have a dish named after him at some stage, if his performances merit it.

One more win could set up a clash with defending champion Roger Federer but for now, he is concentrating only on Basilashvili and his own form.

“I feel like it’s getting better and better round by round,” he said. “I’m feeling more confident in my game. I’m going to try to focus on my next game, every opponent is tough. Let’s see.”