03:23 PM GMT February 07, 2019
Stefanos Tsitsipas is back at the Sofia Open, and my how things have changed. Two years ago, Tsitsipas, with a baby face but the same free-flowing one-handed backhand, lost in the first round of qualifying to Serbian Miljan Zekic, then-No. 209 in the ATP Rankings.
Tsitsipas was No. 203. On Thursday, the second seed will make his main-draw debut in Bulgaria. He has lost the baby face and trimmed exactly 191 spots off his ATP Ranking.
“I had a lot of defeats... Obviously, it was one of those matches that I had to learn from. Because I do believe that with my losses I learn a lot and this is how I develop as a player. I had to lose many times to understand the game better and what I have to do,” Tsitsipas said.
Watch: Tsitsipas' Surge Not Over Yet
“With certain situations, I would say I go more experienced and I know what to expect next. I get a better understanding for the game and the hard work and the attitude to come back on the court for practice and to push myself more.”
His work ethic showed at the Australian Open, where the reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion upset Roger Federer in the fourth round en route to his maiden Grand Slam semi-final. Tsitsipas fell to Rafael Nadal in the last four, but less than a month into the season, he already had checked off one of his three 2019 goals by reaching the semi-finals of a Slam.
“It was like a dream come true. After that match, I felt like my brain was exploding. It was a magical moment that I will never forget. The first time is always special. Beating your idol,” Tsitsipas said of beating Federer. “Obviously, next time, when we face again, it is going to be different. He will know what to expect. And I have to be more prepared for that. I like to play this kind of players. You can learn a lot of things. Even when I win, I still can learn a lot of things from them. These are the moments I am playing tennis for.”
Tsitsipas didn't lie on the couch for a week, resting or sulking about his semi-final loss to No. 2 Nadal. He took a couple days off and then returned to practice. He admits he's still feeling the effects of his six-match-stay in Melbourne.
“I am not on 100 per cent recovered from the last tournament. But I know with my will and my determination at work I still have a lot of chances of doing well here. I like to enter the tournament with light expectations and not to expect too much from myself. I think if things go well it will be fantastic,” he said.
His maiden ATP Tour title came on indoor courts in Europe. In October, Greece's #NextGenATP star beat Latvia's Ernests Gulbis to win the Intrum Stockholm Open. Despite still feeling sore, Tsitsipas remains motivated to do well in Sofia, and the next time he meets a Top 10 player across the net.
“For sure I am practising for these moments. I really want badly to beat Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, and Marin, and whoever else in the future. Because, as I said previously, these players will make me a better player, and I will know how to deal with certain situations much better,” Tsitsipas said.
“[Against Nadal], I knew it was a big chance and I could potentially make the final. I thought I was playing really well, I really wanted to take the best from this tournament. I felt disappointed that I had to leave the tournament by losing an easy match for him, I would say. But I am going to try to change this and improve to avoid this kind of situations.”