Stef soars as bottom-half rivals struggle

 - Chris Oddo

Greek fifth seed overcomes tense start against Chardy before racing into second round

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Watching No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas move past Jeremy Chardy in straight sets on Sunday evening in Paris, it is clear that opportunity won’t need to knock twice in the lower half of the men’s singles draw at Roland-Garros.

On a day that saw the No.4 seed Dominic Thiem bounced from the draw, while No.6 seed Alexander Zverev struggled to win in five, Tsitsipas demonstrated that he is already waiting at the door, anxious to be let in. 

It may be opening day at Roland-Garros but the Greek already has a second-week look in his eyes. 

He ran out a 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-1 victory over the 58th-ranked Frenchman, played in front of an empty Court Philippe-Chatrier due to the 9pm pandemic curfew in Paris.

"For sure concentration is an important element in my game," he said on court of his laser focus. "I was able to increase my level of concentration today after the first set. I felt like I put my foot on the gas and didn't let go."

Before the tournament commenced the 22-year-old confessed to reporters that he would like to be the surprise of the tournament. On Sunday he seemed more concerned with avoiding surprises, as he seized every opportunity to distance himself from the dangerous Chardy. 

Tsitsipas overcame a wobble in the opening set, rallying from 4-1 down in the tie-break to close. It was not museum-worthy tennis, but the Greek's ability to stay steady until his chance presented itself could serve him well over the coming fortnight.

"I wasn't able to find my rhythm really well in the beginning," Tsitsipas explained. "I stayed calm in the difficult moments that were presented in the tie-break and I dealt with them really well. Of course I think that tie-break played a crucial role in the next set and the psychology of the game, too."

In the second set the talented Frenchman marched in lockstep with Tsitsipas, but the Greek tapped the accelerator at 3-all and reeled off seven consecutive games to all but lock up his victory. 

Moments later he had secured a convincing victory, and a fourth consecutive trip to the second round in Paris.

"Own your force," he scribbled on the camera before taking the mic for his post-match interview.

Tsitsipas’s forceful performance against Chardy neatly mirrors the big-picture trend that he has put in place in 2021. Driving intensity and sharp, methodical focus have become a trademark.

“Consistency has been always at the top of my priorities as a player, and it has been difficult to find that kind of secret recipe where you get all the consistency and you can play consistently week by week,” he told reporters in his pre-tournament press conference on Friday. “But I think it's something you build up with confidence, with experience, and eventually, you know, you just find the pattern. You find the way it works for you.” 

It has worked to the tune of a tour-leading 34 victories so far in 2021. With tournament favourites Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic sequestered in the top half of the draw, the Greek is already making a strong statement that he is up to the task of coming through the lower half to reach his first Grand Slam final.