Greek Prodigy Was Six Years Old When He Developed Secret Tactic To Beat Federer
Thirteen years ago, a Cypriot tennis player called Marcos Baghdatis made the Australian Open final, which he lost to a bloke you might have heard of called Roger Federer.
Despite the loss, you couldn’t help thinking: “Okay, we’ve got a rising champ here”.
Last night, you couldn’t help feeling the same thing about another Greek-speaking player, 20-year-old Athens native Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Roger Federer in probably the match of the tournament to date.
But is Tsitsipas a one-forehand-wonder or is he here to stay?
Seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe thinks so: “This guy will win slams,” he said in commentary last night.
This we can say for sure. The young man with the tongue-twister surname is going to be good for tennis. He is eloquent, energetic, likeable and, above all, he has a terrific all-round game which looks very much like it will suit all surfaces.
“My idol became today pretty much my rival,” Tsitsipas said after the match, and while that’s hardly news because you’d expect pretty much every aspiring tennis kid in the world to have a poster of Federer on their bedroom wall, the young Greek idolised the Swiss legend more than most kids.
As a six year old, he began studying Federer, to the point where he emulated his single-handed backhand. No topline players use a single-handed backhand anymore, except Federer and his Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka. Otherwise, modern players prefer the stability and greater power of the double-handed version.
But Tsitsipas has modelled himself on Federer and has now conquered him.
This is the biggest scalp of the young right-hander’s career. He had previously beaten the likes of Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic but never the man most consider the greatest ever.
Now, the new darling of Melbourne’s large Greek community wants more.
"I really want to proceed further in the tournament, to make myself happy and the people that are cheering for me happy,” he said.
"That's why I'm here. That's why I'm playing, for the trophy, for the title... I really want it badly.”
If it happened, not one person could say the tournament has an unworthy winner. And not for the first time, John McEnroe would be right.
Tsitsipas will play world number 22, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter finals.
Oh, and for the record, Marcos Baghdatis went on to have a solid but not stunning career, never again reaching a Grand Slam final after that 2006 Australian Open and peaking in the rankings at world number 8. He’s 33 and still plays, but not particularly well.
Tsitsipas? He’ll likely be top 10 after this tournament and perhaps even a Grand Slam winner.