TORONTO—Stefanos Tsitsipas emerged the big winner and crowd favorite at the Rogers Cup despite losing the final to world No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6–2, 7–6 on Aug. 12.
Tsitsipas, who celebrated his 20th birthday the day of the final, had a breakthrough week and put Greece on the tennis map.
“It’s been such a feeling,” he said during the award ceremony.
“Thank you so much for the vibes and everything … I’m going to miss you guys.”
Toronto’s Greek support did wonders for Tsitsipas. The latter stages of the tournament coincided with the “Taste of the Danforth” Greek festival. He visited Greek Town with friends the night before beating Alexander Zverev on Friday.
“It felt like I was playing at home. It felt like I was playing in Athens. Hopefully they’ll make an ATP event one day there,” Tsitsipas said after beating Zverev.
“I’m enjoying it more than ever with the crowd. It’s been a key factor that helped me win all those matches,” he said after beating Kevin Anderson in the semis.
Tsitsipas was attempting to make history by becoming the first player since the inception of the ATP rankings in 1973 to win a regular tour title by beating five top-10 adversaries.
His four top-10 wins were over No. 8 Dominic Thiem, No. 10 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Zverev, and No. 6 Anderson. But Nadal was one too many.
“You have an amazing future and a great team behind you,” Nadal said.
The 32-year-old Spaniard remained unbeaten in Rogers Cup finals with his fourth victory. He extended his record in Masters 1000 tournaments—the next highest level after the majors—with his 33rd title.
After a very slow start in which he could barely win a point on the Nadal serve, Tsitsipas made a match of it by breaking to even the second set 5–5. He then had chances to break to extend the match to a third set.
Great for Tennis
Tsitsipas is 2018’s Denis Shapovalov, who had his coming out party in Montreal last year with a win over Nadal. The then 18-year-old Canadian became the youngest to reach a Masters 1000 semifinal. Last year at this time, Tsitsipas was ranked No. 168. Now he’s in the top 15.
Tsitsipas was following Shapovalov’s progress last year. “I was dreaming of being his place … so inspirational to see him beat those guys,” he said. “I just had to believe in myself and feel confident playing those guys.”
There’s a certain precociousness that Tsitsipas exudes, an honesty combined with a joyfulness that is infectious. There’s no question he’s what tennis needs.
“I’m aggressive, and I’m aggressive with security,” Tsitsipas said about his style of play.
He’s a player who tries to keep his opponents guessing by varying his groundstrokes and trying unorthodox shots. “And it feels like I’m never losing it. I’m always there.”
Tsitsipas is a superb competitor although he admitted that in the heat of the moment, he can lose track of things such as the score and how many challenges he has left. He even said it happens often that he loses track of the score in the heat of the competition.
The young Greek ran out of challenges in the third-set tiebreak in his semifinal against Anderson.
“It’s all my dad’s fault,” he said jokingly when asked about his poor use of challenges. He was down to one challenge after only three games of the final set. “I’m probably going to switch my coach next time—a coach with better eyes,” he added.
After his semifinal win over Karen Khachanov, Nadal said Tsitsipas has a passion for the game—high praise indeed coming from the game’s most dogged competitor.
“He’s a complex player,” Nadal said. “He has everything. He’s young.”
Tournament director Karl Hale said Tsitsipas reminded him of a young Roger Federer. “Because he has that same aura, you can’t tell if he’s winning or losing.”
Tsitsipas has his whole career in front of him and his big break-through came at the Rogers Cup with incredible support from the Greek community.
He also learned that there is still a big gap between his level and that of Nadal’s. He wants to be able to withstand the “physical pressures.”
“That’s the big difference between my game and his game.
“And the patience that Rafa has is amazing. He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog and always will have you. He will always make you suffer on the court.”
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports