Stefanos Tsitsipas has a good memory of Milan, the city, which hosts the second edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals. The 20-year-old Greek player won the famous Bonfiglio Junior tennis Tournament in 2016, a prestigious Grade A junior tennis tournament held on outdoor clay at the end of May in Milan before Roland Garros. That year he reached at least the quarter finals of all eight tournaments he played, including all four Grand Slam Junior tournaments. He became the first Greek to win a junior Grand Slam title, when he partnered with Estonian Kenneth Raisma in the doubles tournament at Wimbledon. He also reached the singles semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open and ended 2016 ranked world number 2 at junior level behing Miomir Kecmanovic.
He returned to Milan last year as alternate at the first edition of the ATP Next Gen Finals at the end of a successful season in which he became the first Greek player in history to be ranked in the top 100. He reached his first semifinal at ATP Tour level in Antwerp as a qualifier after beating David Goffin for the first top 10 win of his career.
Tsitsipas has made a major breakthrough in 2018 reaching a career-high of world number 15 in the ATP Ranking.
Stefanos was introduced to tennis at the age of 3. He is coached by his father Apostolos. His Russian mother Julia Salnikova was a top Soviet player in the 1980s. Stefanos has three younger siblings. His tow brothers Petros and Pavlos and his sister Elisavet are also tennis players.
“I was three years old and I hit balls with my father between lessons. I remember watching matches on TV as a baby”, recalls Tsitsipas.
The Athens-born player started playing tennis taking lessons at the Tennis Club Glyfada near Athens at the age of 6. His father has always been his coach, but Stefanos began training at the Patrick Moratoglou Academy in 2015.
His father helped Stefanos develop his aggressive game and his one-handed backhand. As a junior Tsitsipas was ranked number 1 player.
Last April he also finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the final in Barcelona on clay. He achieved his best result at Grand Slam level when he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon before losing to John Isner. During the summer hard-court season he reached the semifinal in Washington and the final in Toronto.
“My favourite tournament of the year is Barcelona. The final against Rafa Nadalwas very special but also the run in Toronto and obviously in Stockolm”
He beat four top 10 players (Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson) en route to reaching his first Masters 1000 final at the Rogers Cup in Toronto before losing to Rafa Nadal in the title match. In the Canadian Open he became the youngest Masters 1000 finalist since 19-year-old Novak Djokovic at 2007 Miami.
Last October he became the first Greek player to win an ATP tournament in Stockolm, where he lifted the maiden trophy of his career.
“I achieved all my goals in 2018 and I have developed as a player. I am happy with my first title in Stockolm and the fourth round at Wimbledon. The first Grand Slam I would like to win in my career, because it is important and has an important media coverage. It’s popular around the world. Winning Wimbledon changes your life”.
“I am still focused on the 2018 season and I want to do my best in Milan. I have not planned 2019 yet. I have to improve my game, especially the tweener ! I have to continue working hard. The 2018 season was my first major season on the tour and I have learned a lot from the two finals I played against Nadal in Barcelona and Toronto. The level of the Next Gen is very high. Only small details make the difference”, said Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas was asked if he would like to add a mentor to his team.
“I would like to work with Pete Sampras to continue improving. He would be perfect, but I doubt that he wants to travel”.
Tsitsipas made a winning debut to his Milan campaign with a hard-fought win over Jaume Munar in four sets in a match which featured three tie-breaks.
“The match was closer than I had expected. It was very stressful from the beginning. Every point counts. You can get broken at any moment. There was a lot of stress with many tie-breaks. The key was to be aggressive and deal with tough situations. My forehand worked well but I have to improve my serve. ”.
Tsitsipas does not like the rule according to which players are instructed to use a towel rack at the back of the court to remove the onus on ball-kids to handle towels.
“One thing that I didn’t like that much was the towel rule. I had to run for the towel, I always in my mind when I was playing. The rest was pretty okay. I am not a big fan of the coaching rule on the court, to be honest. I think a player should find solutions by himself. I don’t really like to talk when I am playing on the court. The rest was fine. It was a great performance. I am going to try to work on my serve for my next match”, said Tsitsipas during the post-match interview.
During the press conference Tsitsipas was asked when was the first time that the ball-boy gave him the towel.
“I think it was my first Mastes as a junior. It was somewhere In Italy I played. It was Tennis Europe Masters. I don’t remember where. Calabria or something ? Is there a place like this ? Reggio Calabria. It was the Masters there. I think they had ball kids for the first time. It’s a habit when you have this for almost your entire life. When you play at high level, you have the ball kids give you the towels, so it’s a bit unusual not to have than when you play a match. I think having the towels whenever you need it, it’s very helpful. It’s one thing less that you have to think about. I believe you don’t need to think about whether you are going to take your towel now or later. You can just call the ball kid. It’s their job to provide towels and balls to the players. I have been a ball boy and I gave the towel in my club tournament. It was the Greek Championship, I think”, said Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas found that the innovative scoring system worked well.
“The four games rule worked well. I think it was okay. I believe a tie-break is a scoring format where the more experienced, the calmer and wiser player usually wins the tie-break. Let’s not forget luck involved as well. I was very satisfied that I won the first tie-breaks because it showed good manners from me. I was just there and taking advantage of my opportunities. The scoring system was fine. Deuce was a bit stressful. One good shot, one lucky return just can make the difference. If this deuce rule would be part of the future, I would just take it away. I would probably continue with ad scoring and forget the deciding point. The rest was pretty fine. The lets were okay. They have been done, because I have had issues in the past where I was playing without referees and the opponents were”.
Tsitsipas is enjoying this week in Milan but he is taking this tournament very seriously.
“ It’s definitely fun. It’s Next Gen fans watching us play. I remember myself being that kid watching the older guys play. I love those kids. They just make tennis more fun and entertaining. I am still motivated at the end of a long season. I love football but I will not be tourist and I will not attend any football matches at San Siro. I am here to win the tournament”
Kei Nishikori recovers from a slow start to beat Taylor Fritz in Barcelona
Kei Nishikori beat Taylor Fritz 7-5 6-2 after 1 hour and 41 minutes to advance to the second round at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
Kei Nishikori raliied from 1-4 down in the first set to reel off 12 of the next 15 games.
Fritz converted his second break point in the fourth game and held his service game to open up a 4-1 lead. Nishikori broke twice in the seventh and eleventh games to take a 6-5 lead. The Japanese player served out the first set 7-5 at deuce after saving a break point.
Nishikori went up a double break in the third and fifth games to seal the second set 6-2.
Nishikori and Fritz met once before in the 2016 Memphis final, when the Japanese player beat his younger US rival to clinch his fourth consecutive Memphis title.
Nishikori bounced back from his opening round defeat against Pierre Hugues Herbert last week in Monte-Carlo.
Nishikori claimed two consecutive titles in Barcelona in 2014 and 2015 and finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal, who won the Barcelona title 11 times.
The Japanese player will face Canadian 18-year-old Next Gen star Felix Auger Aliassime or Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri.
Jaziri came back from one set to beat Guido Andreozzi 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-2 after 2 hours and 42 minutes.
Spanish veteran David Ferrer dropped just 11 points in his service points to ease past Germany’s Misha Zverev 6-3 6-1 after 65 minutes. Ferrer will face Frenchman Lucas Pouille in the second round.
Teenager Nicola Kuhn from Spain edged past Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-2 after 2 hours and 30 minutes scoring the biggest win of his career.
Matteo Berrettini beats Mikhail Kukushkin in Budapest
Italy’s Matteo Berrettini claimed his first win on clay this season with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening round of the Hungarian Open.
The first set started with four breaks of serve in the first five games, as Berrettini built up a 4-1 lead. Kukushkin pulled back one of the three breaks in the sixth game for 2-4. Berrettini held his final two games at love to claim the first set 6-4.
Berrettini went up a double break in the first and fifth games to open up a 5-1 lead. The Italian player wasted his first match point. Kukushkin got one break back and saved another match point to hold his service game to win his third consecutive game for 4-5, but Berrettini served out the win at love in the 10th game.
Berrettini set up a second round against Aljaz Bedene, who came back from a double break down in the opening set to beat Bernard Tomic 7-6 (7-3) 6-3.
Radu Albot from Moldova broke serve twice in each set to seal a 7-5 6-4 win over Sergiy Stakhovsky on his fourth match point after 1 hour and 41 minutes setting up a second round against Filip Krajnovic, who edged Andreas Seppi 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 after wasting four match points in the second set.
Marco Cecchinato has pulled out of the Hungarian Open and will not defend the title he won last year.
Fernando Verdasco wins all-Spanish clash against Feliciano Lopez in Barcelona first round
Fernando Verdasco beat Feliciano Lopez 6-4 6-3 in 81 minutes at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
Former Barcelona champion Verdasco, who won this tournament in 2010, improved his win-loss record against his compatriot to 6-5 in their 11 head-to-head matches.
Verdasco claimed his only break point at love to close out the first set 6-4. Lopez got his first break at deuce in the opening game of the second set. Verdasco won four consecutive breaks from 2-3 down with two breaks to wrap up the second set 6-3. Verdasco will face Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.
Taylor Fritz won an all-American first round clash against giant Reilly Opelka 6-3 6-4 after just 55 minutes In the match between two US rising stars Fritz never faced a break point and converted one break point in each set from the four chances he created to cruise into the second round.
Fritz earned the only break in the fifth game of the first set at 15 to take a 3-2 lead after Opelka made a volley error in the fifth game. Fritz hit three service winners in the ninth game to seal the opening set 6-3.
Fritz went up a set and a break in the third game of the second set with a forehand winner. He hit a forehand winner to close out the match, as he was serving for the match at 5-4.
Diego Schwartzman came back from one set down to beat Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6 6-4 6-2.
Nishioka converted his fourth break point in the first game, but Schwartzman broke back in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. After a trade of breaks in the sixth and seventh games Nishioka saved saved three break points to hold his serve in the eighth game. The Japanese player converted his fifth break point after a double fault from Schwartzman in the ninth game. Nishioka served out the first set at love.
Both players traded breaks twice in the second set en route to drawing level to 4-4. Schwartzman broke serve in the 10th game to close out the second set 6-4. Schwartman reeled off four consecutive games from 2-2 with two breaks of serve to win the third set.
Schwartman was playing his third match in Barcelona because he had to play the qualifying round. He forgot to sign before the tournament deadline.
Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer battled past Marius Copil 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 after two hours and 36 minutes to score his ninth match win of the season.
Mayer earned his first break to race out to a 3-0 lead and saved four break points at 3-1. He held his final two service games to close out the second set 6-3. Both players saved a total of four break points in the second set to hold their service games en route to the tie-break. Copil earned three mini-breaks to claim the tie-break 7-3 forcing the match to the third set. Mayer got the only break at love in the 12th game to seal the third set 7-5.
German Jan-Lennard Struff cruised past Hugo Dellien 6-3 6-1 after just 51 minutes. Struff saved all three break points and dropped 14 points in 8 service games. He broke once in the fourth game of the first set and three times in a row to seal the win.
Jaume Munar came back from one set down to beat Portuguese qualifier Pedro Souza 2-6 6-4 6-0 setting up a second round match against US Frances Tiafoe. Sousa got four of the six breaks to win the first set 6-4. The second set went on serve until the 10th game, when Munar got his first break on his third chance to close out the second set 6-4. The Spaniard broke three times to take a bagel win in the third set.
Mackenzie McDonald saw off Japan’s Taro Daniel 6-2 6-2 in just 57 minutes. Mackenzie converted four of hi sten break points and dropped nine points in eight service games. He won the final four games of the first set from 2-2 with two breaks to close out the first set 6-2. He got two more breaks in the third and eighth games to wrap up the match with with a forehand crosscourt winner.
Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics cruised past Denis Kudla 6-4 6-1. The Hungarian player saved two break points he faced and converted four of his nine break points.
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