A sun-kissed and admittedly-exhausted Stefanos Tsitsipas is sat on the terrace of a sports activities café overlooking a small marina of boats at JA The Resort in Jebel Ali.

The 20-year-old is in Dubai finishing the ultimate stretch of his preseason coaching earlier than he flies to Perth subsequent week to signify Greece alongside Maria Sakkari within the Hopman Cup.

He’s been working six-day weeks, placing in 4 periods a day (two on the tennis court docket and two within the fitness center) to prepare for the fast-approaching new season. It’s his break day and he has a few media commitments earlier than he hits the squash courts on the resort for a enjoyable duel together with his health coach Frederic Lefebvre, who previously labored with Serena Williams and Jeremy Chardy amongst others.

Voted the ATP’s Most Improved Participant of 2018, Tsitsipas can be forgiven if he’s nonetheless taking inventory of what he managed to realize over the previous 12 months. He rocketed from 91 within the rankings final January to his present place of No. 15, claiming his first profession title in Stockholm within the course of, ending runner-up in Barcelona and the Masters 1000 occasion in Canada, and reaching the fourth spherical at Wimbledon.

In Canada, he turned the youngest participant to defeat 4 top-10 gamers in a row at a single match. He turned 20 the day of his closing defeat there to Rafael Nadal, wrapping up an announcement week that solidified his place as some of the harmful younger weapons on tour. He concluded 2018 by going undefeated on the Subsequent Gen Finals in Milan, clinching the title together with a $407,000 cheque.

Simply 18 months in the past, Tsitsipas was ranked exterior the top-200. Now he’s the youngest participant within the top-20. The pace of his rise shouldn’t be misplaced on him however he sounds assured when he discusses it.

“I used to be conscious of what was occurring, however to be sincere with you, I don’t know, I wouldn’t have imagined such a great season like this yr. I performed unbelievable tennis, I performed tennis out of my consolation zone, I did issues even myself I used to be really shocked with. Nevertheless it’s all due to the arduous work I’ve been doing,” Tsitsipas instructed Sport360.

Requested to elaborate on what precisely constitutes enjoying out of his consolation zone, he added: “Enjoying massive factors in tense conditions, enjoying beneath stress, enjoying your greatest tennis beneath stress, saving break factors, saving match factors, all of these items is enjoying out of your consolation zone.”

That match toughness was on full show at a number of moments all year long and Lefebvre considers it considered one of Tsitsipas’ biggest property.

“His highest quality is that he’s a warrior on the court docket. He’s fairly pure. At 17, 18 he understood what he needed to do and he took it severely,” stated the Frenchman.

Tsitsipas agrees together with his bodily coach and feels the largest progress he made in 2018 was within the psychological division.

“Psychologically and mentally I’d say. I’ve develop into robust, I’ve develop into sturdy. I believe I’m not breaking that straightforward in robust conditions, I’m in a position to preserve my perspective proper more often than not. I’m really aggressive, I by no means develop into passive or defensive when the match will get tense. I at all times preserve my foot on the fuel pedal and never again down,” Tsitsipas explains.

Alongside Lefebvre in Dubai, Tsitsipas can also be joined by his father and coach, Apostolos, and his youthful brother Petros, who sometimes acts as his hitting accomplice, and at 18, has simply began enjoying Futures occasions on the skilled circuit.

Of the numerous ATP gamers presently within the emirate getting ready for 2019, Tsitsipas has been working towards with Frenchman Lucas Pouille probably the most, however he additionally has a deliberate session with Roger Federer early subsequent week.

Tsitsipas grew up idolising Federer and is thrilled to get the chance to apply with the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

He’s not fazed by the event although.

“It’s all a part of my development. I need to be right here, there was a whole lot of arduous work to get right here and now I suppose it’s my flip to shine,” he merely states.

For a lot of gamers on tour, tennis is a household affair, and Tsitsipas isn’t any totally different. Each his dad and mom performed tennis, and it’s really his mom, Julia Apostoli-Salnikova, who has extra expertise on the skilled tour, the place she was ranked within the top-200 within the early ‘90s.

Having a father as your coach can typically include its personal set of problems however Tsitsipas doesn’t see it that method.

“It’s not sophisticated, it’s a lot less complicated than it seems like. However having him as a coach was the most effective factor that ever occurred to my profession,” he says of Apostolos, his father.

Of the youthful crew climbing up the tennis ranks in the meanwhile, Tsitsipas typically stands out. Whereas others sit at their resort rooms enjoying video video games to blow off steam, Tsitsipas spends his time taking images on the streets of the numerous cities he visits all year long – he has another Instagram account with the deal with ‘stevethehawk’ to showcase his beginner images – and movies and edits journey vlogs for his Youtube channel.

He laments the truth that he has restricted time to pursue his different pursuits however is completely satisfied to spend 30 hours enhancing one vlog, unfold out over a number of days as a consequence of his packed schedule.

“However I perceive that tennis is my precedence in the meanwhile, it’s my job, it’s what I’m getting paid to do and I’m grateful. I really like tennis, I really like hitting a fuzzy yellow ball daily of my life. It’s what I made a decision that I wish to do in my life and I by no means remorse the choice that I took,” he assures.

Tsitsipas makes use of his different pursuits as an outlet, and whereas he appears sociable, he additionally values his alone time and credit a solo journey he took to the Caribbean earlier this yr for his improved outcomes from the Spring onwards.

“I didn’t begin the yr very nicely, I began so and so. I wasn’t doing that nicely from January till March I believe. After which I had an ideal run in Barcelona, which additionally gave me confidence in believing in myself a bit bit extra. Issues appeared to form of change after that. I discovered my rhythm, I discovered my confidence on the court docket, I knew who I really was. I believe the holiday I took going alone, on my own to the British Virgin Islands, helped me to reboot a bit bit, get to know myself a bit bit higher. I believe it was a great factor that I did from myself,” says Tsitsipas.

The tennis calendar has been a sizzling matter of dialog for a few years with gamers complaining in regards to the size of the season, the excessive variety of obligatory tournaments they need to play. Tsitsipas contested a whopping variety of 32 occasions in 2018 (together with Challengers and the Subsequent Gen Finals) and is prone to begin his 2019 season by enjoying practically eight weeks in a row. He admits that the one factor he would change about tennis can be the calendar.

“The tour is nice. I like competing however typically it seems like there’s a whole lot of stress and all that stress, week by week, it’s actually robust to deal with typically,” he confessed.

“I want there was perhaps smarter scheduling, that will be – I’m positive if I’m going increased sooner or later with my rating and the whole lot, I believe the schedule will likely be rather more totally different than it’s proper now so I received’t have to fret about that. Scheduling typically is an excessive amount of.

“I believe I performed probably the most tournaments of all the opposite gamers this yr however nonetheless it was a whole lot of touring this yr.

“The principles – I really loved the Subsequent Gen Finals, I used to be the winner, however nonetheless I loved it though it was very anxious at first to cope with it, I discovered it very anxious with the principles and the whole lot. However I don’t comprehend it felt extra thrilling to be out on the court docket throughout the Subsequent Gen Finals week than some other week that I performed as a result of there was a lot adrenaline in each match that I performed. I by no means felt a lot vitality and a lot pleasure on the tennis court docket ever earlier than, I suppose it was due to the individuals who have been there cheering for me, or the stadium, however it was nice ambiance general.”

One other factor he needs was a bit totally different on the circuit is the interplay between the gamers. Having spent his first full yr on tour in 2018, I ask him whether or not he’s made any new mates within the locker room or whether or not it’s tough befriending your rivals.

“I don’t suppose it’s tough. I simply suppose that everyone is on their telephones these days so it’s robust to make mates like this,” he says with a smile.

“I want folks have been a bit extra social on the tour, not many individuals favor to be that social and have mates however I do perceive that. However I do have some mates, I’m very shut with Marcos Baghdatis, some doubles gamers, individuals who converse the identical language. Denis Istomin can also be an excellent pal.”

Waiting for subsequent yr, Tsitsipas has set himself some excessive targets and isn’t shying away from sharing them.

“My objectives for subsequent yr is to play semis in a Grand Slam, win a Masters 1000 match, break into the top-10 and be within the ATP Finals,” he declares. “These are 4 of the objectives I’ve set for subsequent season. I believe they’re achievable. I’ve proven some good tennis this yr. I believe my stage shouldn’t be removed from successful a Masters 1000, being among the many top-five or six of the ATP rankings, within the Grand Slams enjoying semis or quarter-finals, or perhaps even doing a lot better than that.

“For positive I really feel like I’ve the extent. It’s all about time, all about endurance and ready in your flip.”

He additionally factors out the areas of his sport he hopes to develop probably the most.

“I’d say to be extra aggressive on the court docket. To play a extra aggressive sport type than I’m enjoying in the meanwhile. I do play aggressive however I consider with my top, with my energy, with my talents I may be much more aggressive, I can take the ball earlier, strategy the online, really feel a bit extra snug with my volleys and coming in entrance. And to be a bit extra in line with my serve,” he says.

VOLLEYS WITH STEFANOS

Karen Khachanov completed the yr by beating 4 top-10 gamers en path to the Paris Masters closing. Alexander Zverev received the ATP Finals. Do the achievements of different younger gamers on tour push you to do higher?

I believe there’s motivation. Everyone needs to do their greatest, everyone needs to surpass the opposite one, I believe it’s regular, it’s competitors, it’s what we’re meant to do, it’s our sport, it’s our pure strategy to issues. We’re aggressive most of us, and I’m aggressive myself. I believe having the younger technology of gamers behind me and even in entrance of me form of pushes me a bit bit extra.

Have been you shocked that Zverev received in London?

Not likely. He’s an ideal participant, I used to be not shocked that he received the Nitto Finals. I believe he deserved it, he confirmed an ideal yr, 2018 was a extremely good yr for him. He has crushed these gamers earlier than in order that’s why I wasn’t shocked.

Which moments this yr do you are feeling made the largest distinction for you?

I had many moments. One second that stood out was the spherical of 16 at Wimbledon, which gave me a little bit of confidence I can say. Additionally enjoying semis in Washington as a result of that match I felt like I performed nicely however I didn’t actually play my greatest tennis but. However I used to be shocked that I did semis in a 500 occasion not enjoying my greatest tennis. After which I managed to tug out my greatest sport the subsequent week in Toronto which I used to be very pleased with as a result of it was an important match, many factors there, and I used to be very pleased with myself to be the primary [youngest] male participant to beat 4 top-10 gamers in single match, that was beautiful.

When you needed to choose, which Grand Slam do you suppose can be your greatest shot at your first main title?

I’d say Wimbledon and Australian Open, let’s not overlook the Greek followers.

As a Greek, have been you impressed by Cyprus’ Baghdatis rising up?

He was my idol rising up, I even instructed him after I went for dinner with him the opposite day throughout my trip in Limassol. I couldn’t cover it. He was my idol rising up after Federer. Federer was my idol all my life, Baghdatis got here at all times second, as a result of I suppose of my type of play and the whole lot. However no, I do respect Marcos, his profession continues to be nice and can at all times be revered as a result of he got here from a tiny nation and created historical past himself. That was very inspiring to see, I at all times wished to comply with in his footsteps and obtain issues that he achieved in tennis. The type he performed was so pleasant to look at on TV.

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