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Why Stefanos Tsitsipas could make the leap at the French Open 2021

As he nears his 23rd birthday in August, Stefanos Tsitsipas has already achieved more than most tennis players will ever achieve: seven career titles (including the 2019 ATP Finals and the 2021 Monte Carlo Masters, his first 1000-level victory), three Grand Slam semi-finals.

At the French Open, he had won 25 matches in his first 14 slams, only one behind Roger Federer was up to 14 with the same number of first round exits and more trips to the quarterfinals or later (three to the two of the young Federer).

The Fed similarities don’t end there. Tsitsipas has one of the most dominant serves on tour, a one-handed backhand and forehand that creates sharp angles out of nowhere. (His flowing locks are also better than anything Federer could dream of.) He’s flashed enough in his young career so long ago – maybe right around the time he kicked Federer, the two-time defending champion, out of the 2019 Australian Open – we began to wonder if or when he could force his way into the ruling class of sport.

Of course we ask ourselves that with many players. Damn, we asked ourselves that once from Federer himself – the later 20-time slam champion was a frustration, had been eliminated in seven consecutive slams before the quarter-finals before finally breaking through at Wimbledon in 2003.

Sometimes breakthroughs never come, but after Tsitsipas made it to the semi-finals at both the French Open in October and the Australian Open in January and then experienced a wild clay court season this spring, Tsitsipas could make his move. And if he can maintain his current form, the draw he received in Paris could be his strongest slam performance to date.

You never know if or when a player with potential will break through

Sometimes it happens before you can even predict it. Eighteen year old Rafael Nadal was ranked 51st in the world at the end of 2004, then rose, reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, brought Federer to five sets in the final in Miami, went to his first French Open as No. 4 and only lost three sits on the Way to the title. His draw wasn’t particularly easy – he had to beat ex-semi-finalist Sebastian Grosjean, the future finalist David Ferrer and future champion Federer on the way to the final. He would also win the next three tournaments at Roland Garros before finally succeeding on other surfaces.

However, sometimes your breakthrough requires random circumstances. Dominic Thiem won his first slam title at a US Open 2020, in which Nadal was eliminated, Federer was injured and Novak Djokovic was disqualified in the fourth round. And Federer’s own first slam victory included some breaks.

The 2003 Wimbledon Championships took place without the seven-time champion Pete Sampras, the 2001 champion, Goran Ivanisevic, or the two-time finalists of late Patrick Rafterwho all retired the previous year. Defending champion Lleyton Hewitt lost to a boy in the first round Ivo Karlovic also, and the second placed Andre Agassi lost to the veteran in the fourth round Mark Philippoussis.

The draw was wide open for Federer, especially after the burgeoning archenemy David Nalbandian, who had beaten Federer in five sets at the Australian Open and would beat him again at the US Open, stood out Tim Henman in the fourth round. Federer broke through four unset players and left only one set on the way to a semi-final fight. fall Andy Roddick. That gave him the necessary self-confidence: He beat Roddick and Philippoussis in straight sentences and won the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy for the first of eight times.

It’s hard to watch Tsitsipas’ French Open draw and not get the 2003 Wimbledon vibes.

Granted, all of the big three in tennis – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic – stay on the field, so it’s not a full Thiem or Fed situation from 2003. But all of these big champions are in the top half of the draw. Roland Garros’ inexplicable policy of using the overall ATP rankings for his seeds resulted in the greatest clay court player of all time (Nadal) being ranked 3rd behind a player who competed this week 0-4 lives at the French Open (No. 2 Daniil Medvedev).

Nadal landed number 1 on Djokovic’s side of the draw, and Tsitsipas, number 5 and possibly the third best clay court player in the world, landed in Medvedev’s half. As Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist who struggled with knee problems, from Pablo Andujar in the first round it opened the draw of Tsitsipas even more. Tennis Abstract currently gives him a 58 percent chance of making his third slam semi-final in a row, a 38 percent chance of making the final, and a 19 percent chance of winning the whole thing, the third best title chances behind, of course. Nadal (30%) and Djokovic (23%).

Federer’s first breakthrough on the junior track came in 1998 when he won the junior title at Wimbledon. So it made sense when his first slam was also held on grass. Tsitsipas’ first challenger title and the slam qualifier, meanwhile, have both been on the sand, and he has had sprawling successes on the surface lately. Granted, with Nadal’s continued dominance, sand could be the worst surface to land your first slam title, but Tsitsipas could stand as good a chance as anyone.

“I really enjoy playing in Paris,” he said after winning the second round on the pitch. “I have the feeling that the fans have hugged me and made me one of them. … My tennis is there, my performance is there and I can not only do good tennis, but also create a good atmosphere on this court.”

On the way to the French Open, he’s been 25-6 on clay for the past 52 weeks. He won in Monte Carlo and Lyon and reached the finals in Hamburg and Barcelona, ​​where he led Nadal 7-5 in the third set and two of his other five losses were to Djokovic (including another 7-5 third).

Among those who have played at least 10 games on clay in the past year, only nine are seeded Matteo Berrettini wins more points on his serve or holds a higher percentage of the time than Tsitsipas, and only Nadal wins a higher percentage of sets.

“I’ve had good weeks this year,” he said, “I’ve had some good results … I don’t see my performance as super-excellent and outstanding so far, but I’ve been consistent.”

When he won the second round Pedro Martinez‘Tsitsipas’s serve wasn’t exactly the sharpest – broken four times, twice in the last set – but his return more than made up for it. Just a good returner on average, breaking his serve 13 times in his first two games and his biggest opponent to date came from the chair referee on Wednesday with whom he argued over the placement of his bag.

Is that enough not only to reach the final in Paris, but also to defeat an all-time star there to win the tournament? We will see.

It’s hard to win seven games in a row and even in a friendly, Tsitsipas still has to get over big serves John Isner (who hasn’t given up a set either) on Friday, plus maybe a two-time French Open quarter-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta, two-time slam finalist Medvedev and US Open finalist Alexander Zverev just to get to a possible final with Nadal or Djokovic. But on average he is better than any of these players on clay. The opportunity is there and he has shown many signs that he is ready to seize it.

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