London | Tsitsipas makes successful debut
Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Daniil Medvedev 7-6(5) 6-4 in the Battle of the Debutants at the Nitto ATP finals.
I had great support, there are Greek flags everywhere, It feels like I'm playing in Athens. I had goosebumps Stefanos Tsitsipas
But for now, the two NextGen graduates want major glory in the here and now under the dome of the O2.
Medvedev was favourite in the pair’s opening round-robin encounter in the hors d’oeuvre for the anticipated clash of the giants in the evening between World No.1 Rafa Nadal and reigning champion Alexander Zverev.
After all the 23-year-old had won more than any other on the ATP Tour this year (59 victories) and taken Novak Djokovic to five sets in the US Open in the autumn on route to becoming fourth seed.
But sixth-seeded Tsitsipas, 21, was clearly in a mood to upset the odds and it was nip and tuck through the opening set.
And it got livelier in the tiebreak with Tsitsipas’s big-hitting finally breaking down Medvedev and forcing the errors which sealed the set for the Greek.
There was nothing between the two ground-strokers as they each battled away at the baseline in the second set.
And again, it was Medvedev who wilted first, broken in the ninth game with Tsitsipas completing the victory in the next.
And crowd favourite Tsitsipas, with the long hair, orange bandana and big smile, underlined his philosophy which mixed his contrasting qualities when he wrote “keep fighting, keep loving” on a courtside camera.
The combination enabled the Greek to defeat his Russian opponent for the first time in six attempts.
Tsitsipas said: “It was one of the toughest, most important victories of my career so far.
“I gave myself a big boost, I kept believing, kept fighting, believing in myself, and that last game was one of the toughest.
“It’s such a relief. It’s not easy coming in knowing you lost five before, but I made a deal with myself to keep trying.
“I had great support, there are Greek flags everywhere, It feels like I’m playing in Athens. I had goosebumps.”
It might just be a rivalry which will one day will replace the likes of the one six-time champion Roger Federer has with Rafa Nadal.
The victory seemed all the sweeter for Tsitsipas because of the frosty relationship the pair have, highlighted by a bust-up at the Miami Open last year.
The Greek said: “Our chemistry definitely isn’t the best that you can find on the tour. “It just happens with people that it’s not that you can just like everyone.
” I’ve never said I don’t like him. It’s not that I hate him. I guess — yeah, as he said, we will not go to dinner together. I respect him, for sure. That’s because he has been — he had a long way to come where he is right now. He’s a Grand Slam finalist, so that takes a lot of respect from me to him.”
What of Miami when Medvedev shouted at Tsitsipas as they gathered their kit courtside: “Hey Stefanos, you want to look at me and talk?… Hey look at me. He started it. He said ‘bullshit Russian’, you think this is normal.”
Tsitsipas believes Medvedev got “into my head” by asking him to “apologise” over a ‘let’ incident during the match.
He said: “I’d really love to talk about that situation that happened in Miami. I was playing my match. I think it was, I’m not sure, 3-2 or 4-2 in the third set, and I did hit a let during the rally that we played. Three more shots took place after that net that I hit. I did pass him — well, I did pass him after he approached to the net, and for some reason he wanted an apology from me.
“I completely forgot that there was a net during that rally because I was so much focused to my game, into getting that point over, winning that point. So, he start looking at me, telling me to apologise for what I just did. It was Love-40. Triple break point for me to go back into the match. And after that, I think I didn’t win a single game.
“He did get into my head, and I was very frustrated that it did go this way. He start telling me that I should apologise, that what I do is unsportsmanlike. I tried not to pay attention, because I knew that it was something that he wanted, something intentional, something that he wanted to pass to me.
“Somehow it did affect me. I did got pissed and said what I said, which I do regret, but at the time I was very frustrated that things happened this way.“
Medvedev was asked whether it was more annoying for you to lose a match like that and against an opponent with who you have had a strained and difficult relationship with in the past?
The Russian said: “In a way, because as I say, if I would be feeling — no, I don’t want to say my best way, because your best way you don’t feel every day, but if I would be feeling good, if I would be confident about my tennis and I would have lost, I would have been, like, Okay, he was better today. And he was better today.
“But I felt like I was missing some things. This frustrates me after. I do think it would frustrate me against any other opponent. As I say, I hate to lose against anybody. Of course, I wanted to make it even more bigger head-to-head, but it’s the way it was, it’s the way it is, and hopefully it will change the next time.
“I do think the most important for him was to win his match, his first match just like me in London Finals. So I think he would celebrate this way against anybody no matter who he beat here, and, yeah, that’s the answer.”