Over the past four years, Stefanos Tsitsipas has established himself unequivocally as one of the game’s most charismatic players, ruffling some feathers along the way because of his hard-edged personality, developing a large legion of admirers with his diversified game and unflagging competitive spirit, capturing the attention of tennis fans from every corner of the globe by displaying his many attributes and exposing a few vulnerabilities. Complicated he is, but know this about Tsitsipas: he is totally dedicated to his craft and a multi-faceted man who is good for the game of tennis.
To be sure, Tsitsipas has been deservedly in the forefront of the game for quite some time. And yet, for a variety of reasons, this Greek stylist was not fully himself for much of the past year. He was shattered emotionally by losing the French Open final in 2021 after building a two set lead over Novak Djokovic in the final. His psyche and results suffered considerably thereafter. He had surgery for an ailing right elbow late last year.
But now Tsitsipas may well have turned the corner and recovered a large measure of self conviction by defending his crown at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters tournament on the red clay. By eclipsing the fleet-footed Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the final, Tsitsipas placed himself in elite territory at this illustrious Masters 1000 event. He joins Ilie Nastase (1971-73), Bjorn Borg (1979-80), Thomas Muster (1995-96), Juan Carlos Ferrero (2002-2003), and Rafael Nadal (2005-2012 and 2016-2018) as one of only six men ever to take the Monte Carlo title at least two years in a row. Clearly, that is no mean feat.
The achievement becomes all the more remarkable in light of his recent woes. After winning in Lyon last spring, Tsitsipas appeared in eleven tournaments the rest of the year and then six more at the start of 2022 without claiming a title. Those cumulative setbacks weigh heavily in the mind of any great player, and he unmistakably was wearing those wounds painfully across a long period of time.
Moreover, Tsitsipas nearly suffered what would have been one of the most devastatingly potent defeats of his career in the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo. He was putting on a virtuoso display of his court craft against Diego Schwartzman, the “Little Big Man” of tennis. The Greek performer was flowing freely off the ground, coming forward at all the right times, volleying with panache, and serving with pinpoint accuracy and commendable variety in taking a 6-2, 5-2 lead.
Schwartzman is widely revered for his unwavering competitiveness and one of the largest hearts in tennis, but Tsitsipas seemed unstoppable up until that juncture. Yet he fell into disarray, dropping 14 of the next 15 points. Tsitsipas lost that set in a tie-break and then Schwartzman moved in front 4-0, 40-30 in the third set. Tsitsipas was on the edge of a humiliating defeat, but he approached down the line off the backhand, forcing Schwartzman into a passing shot error. Somehow, Tsitsipas rediscovered his winning formula, sweeping six games in a row from the brink of extinction to win the hard way 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-4.
Having survived that harrowing ordeal, Tsitsipas upended Sascha Zverev 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals. Zverev has been well below par for most of this season, but he had acquitted himself honorably in overcoming Jannik Sinner to reach the penultimate round. Zverev had twice been up a break in the final set and served for the match in that hard fought baseline battle, but they went to a final set tie-break which was locked at 5-5. Sinner’s fragile psyche was evident there as he lost the last two points with unforced errors, falling 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
That victory could conceivably have taken Zverev out of his 2022 doldrums and lifted him back to the level he exhibited so convincingly across the second half of 2021, when the German performed mightily and closed the year by defeating Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev back to back for his second ATP Nitto ATP Finals title.
But, instead, Tsitsipas was far too flexible and inventive for Zverev. He toppled the German for the seventh time in ten head to head appointments over the course of their careers. There were five service breaks in the opening set with Tsitsipas sealing it at last in the tenth game, but from 2-2 in the second set the Greek competitor pulled away inexorably as Zverev essentially surrendered. Tsitsipas deserves high marks for securing 16 of the last 20 points and four games in a row with unerring play to complete a 6-4, 6-2 victory, although Zverev’s passivity and resignation to losing down the stretch were disconcerting to me.
And so Tsitsipas found himself in the final against the surprising Davidovich Fokina. The 22-year-old came into Monte Carlo ranked No. 46 in the world. After accounting for the American Marcos Giron 7-5, 6-3 in the first round, the Spaniard then faced Djokovic. Although this was only Djokovic’s second tournament and fourth match of 2022, he remained a heavy favorite to beat Davidovich Fokina. In two previous meetings against the Spaniard, the Serbian had conceded only seven games in four sets.
But this time they met on an exceedingly windy day. Davidovich Fokina was hitting through the wind much better than Djokovic. The fact that Djokovic had not played a tournament since Dubai— in addition to the wind being so burdensome— made the world No. 1 particularly vulnerable on that afternoon. He lost his serve an astounding nine times across three sets (a career record), and never found his range off the ground.
Davidovich Fokina put himself within range of a straight set victory primarily because his court coverage was so extraordinary. Djokovic tried too many drop shots and his Spanish adversary chased them down with astonishing alacrity, largely taking that tactic away from the Serbian. Down a set and trailing 2-4 in the second set, Djokovic made it to a tie-break. From 2-4 down in that sequence, he took five of six points, securing the set with a masterful point which he won with a scintillating forehand down the line passing shot winner.
But Djokovic’s lack of match play hurt him badly in the third set. He could no longer stay with Davidovich Fokina from the backcourt. He admitted after his 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 defeat that his stamina was sorely lacking in the final set, conceding that he “ran out of gas.”
Meanwhile Davidovich Fokina did not waste his big win over the top seed. He beat David Goffin, Taylor Fritz and Grigor Dimitrov to reach his first Masters 1000 final. But he was outclassed by Tsitsipas in the title round contest.
The Spaniard managed to gain an early break for 2-1 in the first set but Tsitsipas had the upper hand almost entirely in sweeping seven of the next eight games to move ahead by a set and 2-0. Davidovich, however, was ready to make a move. He took three games in a row with heavier hitting and a reduction of errors. Nevertheless, Tsitsipas weathered that storm and broke again at 4-4.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Tsitsipas led 15-0 but lost his serve at 30. That should not happen to a player of his talent and experience. His first Masters 1000 final was in the summer of 2018 in Canada. He won Monte Carlo a year ago. He has been in three Australian Open semifinals and made it to the French Open semifinals in 2020 before reaching the final last year. Why was he so insecure trying to serve out the match against Davidovich Fokina? I don’t have the answer.
Tsitsipas did not gift that game to the Spaniard, but he did nothing special. Be that as it may, he served with more purpose and precision in holding on when he stood at 5-6, 15-30 and then played a disciplined and inspired tie-break to prevail 6-3, 7-6 (3) for his second Masters 1000 crown. This win could not have been more timely for Tsitsipas. It should propel him into the clay court campaign at full force, much the way his 2021 Monte Carlo tournament win did at that time.
Tsitsipas went on in 2021 after Monte Carlo to push Nadal down to the wire in the final of Barcelona. He had a match point before losing that clash. He then won another title not long before Roland Garros and nearly pulled off a trifecta that would have been spectacular in Paris, ousting Medvedev and Zverev before taking the first two sets from Djokovic in the final.
I expect Tsitsipas to enjoy similar success on the clay court trail this year. Winning Monte Carlo again will reignite the Greek in many ways. He will be a big threat at Roland Garros once more, and I would expect him to win another title along the path to Paris on the dirt. One important test for the Greek player could be a semifinal duel with Carlos Alcaraz this week in Barcelona.
Alcaraz, of course, has twice defeated Tsitsipas in recent times, including a magnificent five set victory at the U.S. Open last year. At the end of March in Miami, Alcaraz stopped Tsitsipas again, this time in straight sets.
Both of those encounters took place on hard courts. On the clay, Tsitsipas might have a slightly better chance, although I would still give Alcaraz the slight edge. The Spaniard will be even more eager to win a title in his country this week after a narrow loss to Sebastian Korda in Monte Carlo.
Korda must be admired for winning that battle. He had lost to Alcaraz in straight sets last fall in the title round meeting at the Next Gen ATP Finals, but this time around he came through admirably with the wind blowing ferociously. Korda was measuring his shots more skillfully than Alcaraz. The swirling wind seemed to mess more with the Spaniard’s timing while the American adjusted commendably.
Alcaraz served for the first set at 5-4 and 6-5 but could not close it out, falling short in a tie-break. After taking the second set he led 2-0 in the third but won only one more game. Korda prevailed 7-6 (2), 6–7 (5), 6-3 over Alcaraz before losing to Fritz.
I believe Alcaraz will get over that loss quickly. After reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells and winning Miami, his outlook will remain upbeat. He can win a clay court tournament en route to Paris and will be in the latter stages at Roland Garros as well.
As for Davidovich Fokina, I am encouraged about his prospects. He had won only 4 of 13 matches all season long before Monte Carlo, but now he is expected to be ranked No. 27 in the world following his latest exploits. He is one of the fastest players of all moving forward (and not bad laterally as well), his two-handed backhand is awfully good, and his capacity to go down the line off both sides sets him apart from most players. Davidovich Fokina now has to prove that he is worthy of his newfound status. In my view, he will do well in the upcoming clay court tournaments and win his share of matches, but replicating his Monte Carlo heroics will probably be too tall of a task.
Meanwhile, Djokovic will be in Belgrade this week for the ATP 250 event. This is a chance for him to get back into the swing of things, play a string of matches and perhaps pick up a title. To defend his crown at Roland Garros and thus win a third career title in Paris, Djokovic must find his rhythm swiftly and reacquire the habit of winning. He will be apprehensive competing at home, but the crowds will be cheering him on unabashedly.
So there you have it. In the coming weeks, Djokovic will be hoping to recover his confidence. Alcaraz will be eager to perform well on a surface he enjoys immensely. Zverev will be seeking to reassert himself. Davidovich Fokina will be looking at life from a loftier point of view. Last, but not least, Stefanos Tsitsipas will be having more fun playing professional tennis than he has for a long time after holding on to his crown in Monte Carlo and reminding his peers just how good he can be when he is anywhere near the peak of his powers.
COMMENT: Is A Happy Carlos Alcaraz Too Good To Be True?
Carlos Alcaraz has put fun back into professional tennis.
Even the stoic Novak Djokovic has been taken by the fun times. Instead of frowning when Alcaraz comes up with one of his amazing winners, Novak releases a broad smile that turns his bearded face into a fan-winning appeal.
Who would have thought that Novak would become such a fan favorite in his old age as he attracts even Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal fans, and maybe some Alcaraz lovers. That last one may be difficult to believe, considering the almost cult-like following of Alcaraz.
OPPONENTS EVEN JOIN CARLOS’ FUN
It’s the boyish smile that Carlos uses to so easily lure tennis fans into his fan base. Opponents even join the fun when Alcaraz puts on another amazing stunt on the court, or sometimes while sliding to hit a winner off what looked like a sure winner by his opponents.
Even British star Daniel Evans couldn’t ignore the exuberance of Alcaraz in their third-round match at the U.S. Open. Alcaraz comes up with another one of his amazing shots to win a point, and Evans breaks into an ear-to-ear smile. Everyone is happy.
Yes, Carlos Alcaraz is almost too good to be true.
ALCARAZ FILLS THE GAP LEFT BY FEDERER AND NADAL
Yes, the amazing 20-year-old Spaniard gives tennis the bump it needs in the new generation of players after the Federer, Nadal and Djokovic heydays. Of course, Djokovic is still trying to add to his record-setting number of Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic is still very dangerous. It could be a spectacular final if Novak and Alcaraz could work their way into another Grand Slam final as they did at Wimbledon.
Of course, even after taking much of the fire out of Alexander Zverev in straight sets in the quarterfinals, Alcaraz isn’t home free yet. Not with former champion Daniil Medvedev standing in his path in Friday’s semifinals before a possible showdown with Djokovic.
WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S SIDE OF THINGS?
It’s anyone’s guess which semifinalist will walk off with the women’s crown on Saturday.
The only Grand Slam champion left, Australian Open champ and new world’s No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka, is in the bottom half of the draw, and must take on red-hot Madison Keys in Thursday’s semifinals.
Wimbledon titlist Marketa Vondrousova didn’t provide much of a test for 2017 U.S. Open finalist Keys in a 6-4, 6-1 loss in the quarterfinals. As good as Keys has been lately, Sabalenka will be difficult to handle.
That leaves young Coco Gauff or French runner-up Karolina Muchova as the other possible finalist. Sabalenka appears to be too strong and aggressive, not to mention talented, for the other three semifinalists.
Where’s French champion Iga Swiatek or high-ranked Jessica Pegula? Of course, both were wiped out in the round of 16, Pegula by Keys and Swiatek by unpredictable Jelena Ostapenko.
That leaves the gate wide open for Sabalenka’s fourth straight Grand Slam semifinal.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Lesson Failed: Never Take A Legend For Granted
Carlos Alcaraz should have learned at least one important lesson from his marathon loss to Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati final.
Never take anything for granted against a legend such as Djokovic.
Alcaraz paid a big price for ignoring that lesson in Sunday afternoon’s scorching heat on a blistering hard court.
NOVAK APPEARED TO BE HEADED FOR DEFEAT
Djokovic appeared to be a beaten man when Alcaraz served with a 4-3 lead in the second set. He was virtually wiped out, or so it appeared.
But the match really was just beginning. Alcaraz won the first point of that eighth game of the set, and everything appeared to be in order for the young Spaniard.
Boy, did things change quickly as Alcaraz carelessly committed four consecutive unforced errors. Suddenly, it was a new game with Novak looking alive and well. Four games later, they were in a tiebreaker and Alcaraz held his only match point of the day.
Djokovic was on fire then and on his way to a 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) victory.
LOSS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
Of course, this one really didn’t mean that much to either Djokovic or Alcaraz. They are after bigger goals.
The big one comes up in New York in almost three weeks, if both players can make it to the final of the U.S. Open.
Alcaraz can only get better. After all, he’s only 20 years old. He made a remarkable improvement over his performance in losing to Tommy Paul a week earlier in Toronto.
You wouldn’t think Djokovic can get much better than the game he played in the Cincinnati final. Yes, it should be steaming hot in Arthur Ashe Stadium, too.
FIVE SETS A TELLING STORY
This time it will be five sets, and there is no telling who will survive the heat best, if Alcaraz gets another shot at Djokovic. For both players to make it through two weeks in New York to the Sunday final would be a major achievement for Djokovic and defending champion Alcaraz.
Either way, it probably is just a matter of time before Djokovic gives up the chase for more Grand Slam titles. It is worth it in the end of other majors for Djokovic only if he can prevail through the final shot.
But anything short of other major titles wouldn’t be worth what Djokovic went through Sunday in Cincinnati for 229 minutes. Of course, Alcaraz went through similar circumstances at the French Open.
But he’s 16 years younger than Djokovic.
All of the great ones eventually have to surrender to time.
COCO IS A STAR IN THE MAKING
Coco Gauff likely will become one of the great ones before she finishes. A Grand Slam title in New York would set her on her way to greatness.
The 19-year-old, much like Alcaraz, is loaded with weapons. First, she is a great athlete.
That was obvious to me as early as May 2019 when I spotted Gauff resting on a bench at courtside after a long workout at LTP Tennis in Charleston. She already had qualified for the $100K ITF tournament there.
I interviewed Coco for just a few minutes before she was called back to the court. A month later she was in the round of 16 at the French Open.
JUST A MATTER OF TIME FOR GAUFF
Just 15 years old, it was just a matter of time before Gauff would become a superstar.
She isn’t quite there yet, but after winning titles in Washington as well as her first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, Gauff is getting close. She still has two more chances to win a Grand Slam title as a teenager, and the next step could be New York. She already has the experience of a runner-up finish at last year’s French Open.
Gauff really didn’t have much trouble upending Karolina Muchova, 6-3, 6-4, at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open on Sunday.
But again, the draw for the U.S. Open will be filled with players capable of winning a Grand Slam title, even including the likes of Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, ranked just ninth in the world. As a left-hander, she already has the edge over most of the players in the field.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
WIMBLEDON: An immense Alcaraz, but the changing of the guard is yet to come…
Alcaraz’s merits compared with Djokovic’s demerits. Just a bad day among many so-so days for the Serbian, nonetheless No. 2 of the ATP ranking? Or is it the start of an inexorable decline? Farewell to the Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors?
NOTE: This article was written in Italian and has been Translated by Carla Montaruli
Carlitos Alcaraz triumphed, cheers for Carlitos Alcaraz. The feat he accomplished at only 20 years of age and in his fourth tournament on grass is remarkable, remarkable indeed. He is the third youngest champion ever after 17-year-old Becker and 20-year-old Borg, as well as the third Spaniard after Santana and Nadal to win the trophy. Being able to beat a player in the fifth set after 4 hours and 43 minutes who is the king of marathons, a seven-time champion and had won 45 straight matches over the last 10 years on Centre Court, can only be considered a great exploit.
Credit where credit is due. Alcaraz played beautiful tennis, complete in all aspects, bold forehands and backhands, powerful and hit on the rise, drop-shots, acrobatic and diving volleys, hanging smashes, aces and winning serves. All this with great mental solidity displayed throughout the entire match: after losing the first set badly, enduring the tension of a second set tiebreak which had not started well for him, then dominating the third set and finally closing the encounter as a consummate veteran in the fifth with a last service game played brilliantly after tenaciously defending very well the break he had secured in the third game of the final set.
A 20-year-old young man could not be asked for more. A well-deserved applause and congratulations also for defending that first place in the world rankings that he will hold for the twenty-ninth week, hoping to keep it as long as possible.
Staying at the top for 389 weeks like the extraordinary champion he beat on Sunday would mean dominating the world stage for over seven years. Over seven years! And…as I write this I wonder if we have paid enough attention to such a feat in all that time!
Yes, because you write 310 weeks, Federer’s weeks as world No.1, then you write 389, that is Djokovic’s weeks spent in the same spot: there and then they seem like just numbers…but only when you divide them by 52, the weeks in a year, do you realize the immensity of these extended dominances within a sport whose growing competitiveness and many booming young guns are emphasized almost every day.
Crazy in the case of both Federer and Djokovic with the ATP scepter in their hands, because each of them – as the fourth part of the Fab Four – had to confront at least with the other three. All four have been world number one. Still, for 699 weeks, almost 13 years and a half, Roger and Nole were number one, Nadal was king for 209 weeks and Murray for 41. Add them up and that’s another five years—eighteen years of reign for four kings. Written so many times off the top of my head…but upon reflection this is impressive stuff. It never remotely happened before.
So here it is… the idea that Carlitos Alcaraz could one day – but we are talking about seven years! – reach Djokovic’s 389-week reign today may seem unreal, absolutely far-fetched.
But…are there perhaps three more champions on the horizon who can recreate a quartet of phenomena like the Fab Four? I don’t see them at all. Will Alcaraz be alone in the driver’s seat for the next few years?
In seven years, 10 or 18 – 18 years was the reign of the Fab Four — phenoms could sprout up almost like mushrooms! Speculating on what will happen in such a long and far away period is a mindless divertissement and I don’t know why it dawned on me…. Except perhaps Holger Rune today – though greatly downgraded by the last duel here at Wimbledon – there doesn’t seem to be a rival of Alcaraz’s caliber right now. Our compatriots may see our Sinner two steps below Alcaraz and one step below Rune, but neither do they see other “prospects” ahead of him. Djokovic called Sinner one of the leaders of the new generation. His fifth place in the Race, along with eighth in ATP ranking certify such status.
But then for a year or two, or maybe even three, if Rune and Sinner don’t make giant strides, or if a new rising star doesn’t emerge, Carlitos Alcaraz could easily add a hundred or more weeks to the 29 he has already earned as No. 1.
Or am I venturing into a wild prediction?
Just not to present you with a single scenario I want to say, however, that the most obvious commonplace one could come up with today, after this final that Djokovic shall not cease to regret for at least four reasons – three missed backhands in the tiebreak and a clumsy drive volley which squandered a hard-earned break point for a 2-0 lead in the decider – is that we have witnessed the changing of the guard.
It will make so many headlines, sure. I may have uttered it too, in one of the many videos I did for Ubi Instagram, for Ubitennis, and the IntesaSanPaolo website. But in my opinion, it’s not true yet.
Djokovic is not ready to retire. He is not going to quit, even if the dream of achieving a Grand Slam has vanished, maybe forever. Farewell to Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors? I think so. He is still world No. 2, isn’t he?
I had written throughout the tournament – you may check – that I didn’t think I had seen the best Djokovic. He had not been at his best against Hurkacz or even Rublev. And, as much as many readers disagreed, neither had he dominated Sinner as he had last year in the last three sets when he had been truly unplayable. Demerit to him and credit to Sinner, as often happens simultaneously.
I wrote that Hurkacz had thrown the first set out of the window and when leading 5-4 in the tiebreak of the second with two serves at disposal to put it away he had not been faultless but had shown a lack of personality. I also wrote that Rublev had been unlucky in the fourth set on the occasion of some break points he had failed to convert.
We did not see the best Djokovic, in my opinion, even in the final against Alcaraz. Otherwise, he would have been two sets up.
Oh yes, come on: the three backhand errors he made in the first tiebreak he lost after 15 won were not errors from Djokovic, the champion who has always played the crucial pointsbetter than anyone else, certainly better than Federer and Murray, perhaps equal to Nadal.. In particular, match points aside – what about that, dear Roger? – those tiebreaks that are said to be worth double.
Those three backhands, a drop shot at 3-2 when he was a minibreak ahead, the one at 6-5 and setpoint after he had deftly returned Carlitos’ serve, the one at 6-6 were errors worthy of a Hurkacz, a Norrie or a Shapovalov, not a Djokovic!
I recall – just quoting from memory because I haven’t time to engage in dutiful and thorough research – that Nole’s record in best-of-five matches after winning the first set is monstrous. Imagine after winning the first two sets.
Here, a Nole in ordinary form, even against that very inspired Alcaraz, would have started the third set with a two-set lead.
I know that with ifs and buts, you don’t go anywhere. But I’m pretty sure – and I think Nole is too – that if the two sets lead never came into being, it was more because of Nole’s demerit than Carlitos’ merit.
But is this a random demerit, due to a bad day and a series of bad days as it appeared to me throughout the tournament, or is it a sign of the slow inexorable decline of the Serbian who is beginning to come to terms with his age? That drive volley with which he dissipated the all-important break point and the chance to rise 2-0 in the fifth set was another topical moment. Yet, it was not Novak to succeed in a decisive breakthrough, but Carlos three minutes later.
The fury with which, at the changeover, Nole smashed his racket on the net post is revealing. Nole had missed the train to victory and, experienced as he is, he understood it.
I would say that this casual contingent demerit or signal of inexorable decline is the discriminating point of our debate.
Bravo, bravo to Alcaraz for taking advantage of it with precocious maturity, but did Djokovic stumble over a mediocre day by chance, because it can happen to everyone, even to younger tennis players, or because even he – an extraordinary phenomenon – is on that rickety path where age starts taking its toll?
If the most plausible answer we believe in is the first one – and that is the one I believe in – we cannot yet speak of a changing of the guard.
Djokovic can safely return to the throne of tennis, perhaps win the US Open and/or the next ATP Finals in Turin as well as an 11th Australian Open. Push the undoubtedly great Alcaraz back to second place.
If, on the other hand, the right answer is the second, this Wimbledon definitely enshrines the changing of the guard. But, even in this scenario, only the changing of the guard at the top and the handover between Djokovic and Alcaraz. Not a generational changing of the guard though, at least for now and the very near future, because even a subdued and slightly tarnished Djokovic is stronger than Rune, Sinner, and Tsitsipas on almost any surface. At worst he would be the second-best tennis player in the world. The others, Sinner included, would do anything to stand where he stands.
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