06:25 PM GMT May 18, 2019
One week after defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets to reach his first clay-court ATP Masters 1000 final at the Mutua Madrid Open, Stefanos Tsitsipas insisted that his two-set loss to the Spaniard at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia wasn't due to a drop in performance, but instead, the speed of the court.
Bidding to reach back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 finals for the first time, Tsitsipas beat Jannik Sinner and Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters champion Fabio Fognini en route to the last four at the Foro Italico. But the three-time tour-level titlist, who leads the ATP Tour with 29 wins from 40 matches this year, claimed slower conditions in Rome were the key factor in his reversal of fortunes after falling to his fourth loss in five FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters against the eight-time Rome winner.
"I think [Rafa's] game was the same, like last week," said Tsitsipas. "The court was different, much slower. I guess that helps him. He feels more sure with himself, has more time to execute his plan.
"In Madrid, as I said, altitude, courts are faster, balls are faster. The shots that I played today, I played similar shots last week. Today those shots felt really slow and he had plenty of time to pass me when I was approaching to the net, which in Madrid it felt quite different. It didn't feel like I had much control of my shots... The court speed was the difference, I would say. But he played pretty much the same. Maybe a little bit better, but [there was] not a noticeable difference."
Despite failing to join Novak Djokovic (2011 Madrid & Rome) as only the second player to beat Nadal in back-to-back clay-court tournaments, Tsitsipas heads into Roland Garros full of confidence after an impressive run of results during the European clay swing. The #NextGenATP Greek lifted his first ATP Tour title on clay at the Millennium Estoril Open (d. Cuevas) and has reached the semi-finals or better at consecutive Masters 1000 events for the first time, following his final run in Madrid and last-four appearance in Rome.
"I am satisfied [with my results since Estoril]. I had a lot of matches on clay. I think that's important coming into a tournament like the French Open. I think I learned a lot these three weeks," said Tsitsipas. "It's good to come into a Grand Slam knowing what you did well, what you did wrong, trying to concentrate on those things in order to avoid the same mistakes in the big events."