INTERVIEW: Greece's Tennis Ace Stefanos Tsitsipas Aims High
Stefanos Tsitsipas recently became the first Greek male to play in Grand Slam in 9 years after making it into the first round of the French Open at Roland Garros. AGONAsport’s Graham Wood caught up with Greece’s teenage tennis star to talk about childhood dreams, following your instincts and staying humble.
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Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is Greece’s number one player at the ripe old age of 18, realized a childhood dream by qualifying and playing in the first round at Roland Garros in Paris last month.
He was the youngest player in the tournament. Ironically, he came up against the oldest player in the draw in Croatia’s 23rd seeded Ivo Karlovic, eventually losing in three straight sets.
But Tsitsipas has plenty to be proud of, as well as to learn from, following his landmark achievement. Next stop is a permanent place on the senior ATP Tour. Something which is by no means out of reach for the level-headed young man from Athens.
In some respects, Tsitsipas was born to be an athlete. The son of a Greek father and a Russian mother, former pro-tennis player Julija Apostoli. His grandfather, Sergei Salnikov was a Soviet football player and manager.
AGONAsport: OK Stefanos, first off congratulations again for making it into the main draw. The first Greek male to do so in 9 years! How would you describe the experience overall?
Stefanos Tsitsipas: It was an amazing experience, I am proud to be the first Greek to do it after my friend Konstantinos Economidis. I had to give everything to qualify and it was a childhood dream for me to be part of the men's main draw Roland Garros. It was a special feeling to remember!
AS: Brilliant. You had a close match against Ivo Karlovic, the oldest player in the tournament, which you eventually lost. What was the key factor in that game?
ST: It was very special for me to enter the court and be part of all of the action taking place on that day. I was focused on starting the match good and playing my best but I think the key thing about that match was to accept the fact that I was playing against a better server, that I would not be playing a lot of rallies from the baseline. I have never had the chance to play against these kind of players before. I tried to stay focused as much as I could on my service games. It's definitely not easy coming up against these guys, and I would say it was mostly a mental game rather than physical. His huge experience was for sure an advantage for him.
AS: Despite losing, what were the positive things you took away with you from your Roland Garros experience? And what are your plans and hopes for the rest of 2017?
ST: I believe I learnt a lot from it. I feel more experienced and the thing with which I will walk away trying to improve is to be able not to make the same mistakes over and over again. My goal now is to start being part of the ATP World Tour tournaments and get my ranking 90 spots higher than where I am now. I also hope to qualify in one more Grand Slam this year. This would make me very happy.
AS: Great. Well, if it means anything, we think you’ll definitely do it. Now, most people your age are hitting the books and studying hard. You are hitting serves and aiming for the top of the tennis world. Are you continuing with any studies or are you intending to focus full-time exclusively on tennis?
ST: It's pretty complicated because I am doing online school whenever I have the time. My focus is on professional tennis, I took the tough decision few years ago not to go abroad to study/play tennis.
AS: Obviously being on the tennis tour is tough with long trips and a lot of time away from home. Is this something which bothers you? How do you deal with it?
ST:I love traveling and playing tennis at the same time. There are some things that bother me though like being away from my siblings and home for long time.
AS: Where’s your favorite place to play tennis in Greece?
ST: That’s an easy one! Tennis Club Glyfada is my club, I love practicing there after long time away because it's like a family. The environment, the coaches, the barman, the players, the members... they are all part of my family. I love being back!
AS: No place like home, indeed. And what about the best place you’ve played competitively.
ST: I would say Wimbledon. There is just something about it that makes it so special every single time. It's a great feeling knowing that so many people are interested to watch tennis in
UK. I love this tournament whether I lose or win. Maybe a bit more when I win!
AS: How about when you’re not playing or training and smashing serve after serve all day long?
ST: Well, I love listening to music whenever I am traveling to tournaments. I also like photography, watching movies, playing video games/billiard or any other sport.
AS: Can you share your earliest memories of starting to play tennis? And who was the one person or people who got you into the game?
ST: I remember very well the happiness I felt of when I won my first tournament. I remember I got an enormous trophy as a prize, probably bigger than any other trophy I have won until today. First time is always special! I would say both of my parent have been my inspiration. They were working as coaches and I got into the sport pretty early. I liked everything about it.
AS: What’s the current state of Greek tennis? Why do you think we have not seen many top players coming out of Greece down the years? Do you think it is considered an elitist sport?
ST: I believe it's getting better, I would say rising. I feel very happy to be a small part of all of this. I enjoy watching people play the sport when I am back home, especially young kids. It can definitely become more popular for our country in the future. I think the economic crisis in our country played a big role over the past decade. Tennis is an expensive sport, which needs money (equipment, traveling, coaches, hotels). Not many people can afford it in our country and I also think it makes it even harder with the Greek Tennis Federation that doesn't give and provide opportunities to young kids and players to reach their goals. In a way it's like it doesn't exist at all as a federation. Unfortunately it's pretty sad to say that if you want to make it you got to do it by yourself.
AS: Very well said. Finally, what advice would you give any young players who aspire to make it big? And to kids who are just starting out?
ST: To always accept failure in the beginning of their efforts. You have to be passionate, love what you are doing and also know the reason why you are doing it. We all learn from failure, not success. Staying humble and hungry is a key in tennis. It's also very important to follow your instincts sometimes and be respectful to the people behind you, the people that support you and love you.
AS: Thanks again Stefanos, and good luck from the AGONAsport team!