The rapid rise of Tsitsipas
AGONAsport looks back on Stefanos Tsitsipas’ incredible 2018 season, which saw him improve his ranking from 91 to 15.
The 20-year-old finished the season with 46 total wins (56 if including qualifying and challenger tournaments), including 11 top 20 wins and six top 10 wins. He had 15 wins at the ATP 500 level, which was the most of any player on tour. He also made over $2.5 million USD in prize money.
STARTING OFF WITH A BANG IN QATAR
In his first tournament of the season, the young Greek won two qualifying matches in straight sets to make the main draw at the Qatar Open. He would eventually win another two to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to world number five Dominic Thiem in a tight two-set match, 7-5 6-4. After this tournament, he would rise from 91 to 80 in the rankings.
BOUNCING BACK IN DUBAI
Following a string of disappointing results, Tsitsipas returned to the Middle East where he was to compete in the main draw of the ATP 500 event in Dubai. There, he would win two matches in three sets to make the quarterfinals of an ATP 500 event for the very first time in his career. This strong showing would see him jump up to number 71 in March 5th’s rankings, meaning that in just two months he had risen 20 spots.
FINDING FORM ON CLAY IN HIS SECOND HOME
Tsitsipas breezed through the qualifying rounds at the Monte Carlo Masters, near his training base in the south of France. He then defeated Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in straight sets in the first round of the main draw, getting revenge for his first round loss at the Australian Open in January. This would also be his first clay ATP main draw win in his career. Despite losing a close 7-6 7-5 encounter to world number 10 David Goffin in the next round, Tsitsipas would still rise from 71 to 63 in the rankings after this event.
Going into the ATP 500 event in Barcelona, Tsitsipas had only beaten one top 20 player in his career. There, he would win five matches in straight sets to reach the final. Three of those wins would come against top 20 players (numbers 7, 11, and 17 in the rankings). Although he would lose in the final to world number one and 11-time Barcelona champion Rafael Nadal, this would still be the Greek’s best week to date, as he reached his first career ATP final. As a result, his ranking would go up all the way to 44 in the world. After initially setting a goal to reach the top 50 in 2018, Tsitsipas had achieved that by the end of April.
PROMINENCE IN PORTUGAL
Tsitsipas followed up on his runner-up finish in Barcelona the previous week, by reaching the semifinals of the ATP 250 event in Estoril. Although he would lose 7-6 in the third to home favorite and eventual champion Joao Sousa, this was still a big week for the young Greek. In the round of 16, he defeated world number eight Kevin Anderson for the third top 10 win of his career. His ranking would once again rise, this time to number 40 in the world.
FIRST GRAND SLAM WIN IN PARIS
After being 0-3 in Grand Slam main draw matches in his career, the Greek was due for his maiden victory in a major. He defeated Spanish qualifier Carlos Taberner in four sets to finally get the monkey off his back. Unfortunately for Tsitsipas, he had a difficult draw which saw him face world number eight Dominic Thiem in the second round. The Austrian would win the match in four sets, and eventually make it all the way to the final. Regardless, it was important for Tsitsipas to get his first win at the Grand Slam level. His ranking would also go up a few spots to 37 after this tournament.
GREATNESS ON GRASS
Having previously never won a main draw level match on grass, Tsitsipas soon showed his potential on the surface. He registered three wins in the two lead-up tournaments he played prior to Wimbledon, including a straight-sets win over world number 18 Lucas Pouille. At Wimbledon, the Greek would shine, winning three consecutive matches to reach the round of 16. There, he lost to world number 10 John Isner. This run would see Tsitsipas make further ranking progress, as he went up to 32 in the world at the conclusion of this event.
WINNING IN WASHINGTON
After a few weeks off, the Greek returned to action for the North American hardcourt swing. He won three matches in Washington to reach the semifinals, including a 6-3 6-4 win over world number 11 David Goffin in the quarterfinals. This would mark just the second time that the Greek reached the semifinals of an ATP 500 event. After losing to world number three and eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the next match, the Greek would rise to 27 in the rankings.
CONQUEST IN CANADA
Tsitsipas then went on to make history at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, an ATP Masters 1000 event. He would defeat four top 10 players in the same tournament, becoming the youngest player ever to do so. He did so in four consecutive days, by beating Thiem (#8), Djokovic (#10), Zverev (#3) and Anderson (#6) to advance to the final. There, on his 20th birthday, he fell to world number one Rafael Nadal in straight sets. After that week, he moved up from 27 to 15 in the rankings. It must be noted that he was the only player to defeat Djokovic between his Wimbledon and US Open titles, and he saved match points against both Zverev and Anderson.
REGROUPING IN ASIA
After losing three matches in a row, he won two matches in his next two tournaments to get back on track. At the ATP 500 event in Tokyo, he made the quarterfinals before losing to third-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan (#12). At the ATP Masters 1000 event in Shanghai, he had two big wins over Monfils and Khachanov before falling in the round of 16 to Anderson (#8). Although these results were nothing extraordinary, it was still important for Tsitsipas to end his losing streak and regain his form.
Tsitsipas then returned to Europe where he was seeded third at the ATP 250 tournament in Stockholm. Tsitsipas would go on to win the title, after defeating the likes of world number 14 Fabio Fognini and former top 10 player Ernests Gulbis, both in straight sets. Gulbis had previously been 6-0 in finals, so this ended his unbeaten run. Additionally, Tsitsipas had previously been 0-2 in finals, so this was his maiden title.
SOLID IN SWITZERLAND
Following his run in Stockholm, Stefanos made the quarterfinals without dropping a set at the ATP 500 event in Basel, Switzerland. A three set loss to Russian Daniil Medvedev ended his six-match winning streak. Still, a quarterfinal appearance at an ATP 500 tournament was a good result, as Tsitsipas showed no signs of a letdown after his big win in Stockholm.
MAESTRO IN MILAN
Tsitsipas ended his incredible 2018 season on a high at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. After being an alternate and missing out on the event in 2017, Tsitsipas returned in 2018 as the top seed. He dominated play in the group stage, coming out on top of Group A with an impressive 9-1 set win-loss record. He then edged Russian Andrey Rublev in five sets to reach the final, where he defeated Aussie Alex de Minaur in four sets to win the title. Although the tournament offers no ranking points, Tsitsipas did rack up $407,000 USD for winning the title, and showed just why he is the best of the “Next Gen” group of players.