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22 Jan, 2019 16:57

‘It’s a dream come true’: Meet Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 'Greek God' taking the tennis world by storm

‘It’s a dream come true’: Meet Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 'Greek God' taking the tennis world by storm

20yo Stefanos Tsitsipas has become the youngest player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 2007 as he stormed to the last four of the Australian Open, but who exactly is the player being heralded as the sport's next big thing?

It has been an extraordinary tournament for Greece's Tsitsipas. He has already defeated Andy Murray's conqueror, Robert Bautista Agut, in four sets in Tuesday's quarter-final match-up at Melbourne Park in Australia, setting up a semi-final date with world number one Rafael Nadal on Thursday.

Coincidentally, Tsitsipas is the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Djokovic managed the same feat in 2007 when he defeated David Ferrer in straight sets to advance to the final of the US Open. 

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A round earlier, at the quarter final stage, Tsitsipas bested Roger Federer - the man who he described as his idol - across four sets in a match he described as a "dream come true" and that he was the "happiest man on earth."

Tsitsipas was just six weeks old when Federer won his first professional tennis match and he admitted in the lead-in to the match that he used to study the Swiss great on YouTube in an attempt to mirror his style.

In fact, much of his current success can be traced back to a childhood spent absorbed in tennis. Both of his parents, a Greek father and Russian mother, were experienced players. His mother, Julia Apostoli, was a world-ranked junior player and broke into the top 200 players in the world in the professional ranks, representing the Soviet Union Fed Cup team. 

Both were were working as tennis instructors at the time of his birth and began their first son's introduction to the game at an early age.

"My first memory is to be three and to hit balls with my father in the gap between lessons," he said. "I remember watching games on TV, as a baby, I can not tell you who was playing, but I remember watching."


Football and swimming were also keen interests to a young Tsitsipas. In fact, tracing his family line further back reveals another strong sporting link; his maternal grandfather, Julia's father, was Soviet footballing legend Sergei Salnikov, who became a club great at Spartak Moscow, with whom he won the Soviet league three times, and winning the 1956 Olympic gold medal with his country.

It was before his tenth birthday when Stefanos realized what he wanted to do with his career. As his father Apostolos says, his son woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that he had made his decision to pursue professional tennis.

"Dad, I have to tell you something: I want to become a tennis player, I like the competition, I like the challenge," his father recalls.

An outstanding youth player, Tsitsipas rose to become number one junior in the world. He began on the circuit in 2013 at just 14 years of age and would make the semi-finals of both the US Open and Wimbledon, as well as claiming a Junior Grand Slam title in the Wimbledon doubles in 2016 alongside Estonia's Kenneth Raisma. 

Tsitsipas played his debut ATP main draw tournament in Rotterdam in 2017 and would make his Grand Slam debut at the French Open later the same year, though he would bow out in the opening round. By the end of last summer, he became the first Greek player ever to crack the top 30 in the world rankings.

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Now, as evidenced by his showing in Melbourne, Tsitsipas is likely to break into the world's top ten players - a remarkable feat for a player who turned 20 in August. 

Tsitsipas' rise to stardom has been borne from his attacking style of play. An aggressive baseline player, he prefers to hit powerful ground strokes from the forehand position. He also has a strong serve in his arsenal, as well as a preference to approach the net more often than some other players of a similar style. 

His one-handed backhand shot is becoming something of trademark, even early in his career. It is a rarity in modern tennis but, he says, it is motivated by Roger Federer's use of the same technique. The youngster was quoted on tape at an even younger age admitting perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game is his tennis idol.

His critics say that Tsitsipas' primary weakness is linked to his desire to pull off incredible, if unlikely shots, sometimes leading to over-hit balls and unforced errors.

Despite these concerns, he has plenty of time to refine his technique but given his recent success it would probably be wise to not attempt to redefine it too greatly, as what he is doing is clearly yielding success.

How far can he go? Grand Slam titles appear a strong likelihood for the Athens native, but whether or not that comes in the next week or a little further down the line will, in part, be determined by how he fares in the biggest match of his brief career against Novak Djokovic on Thursday. 

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