Between admission of powerlessness and hope. This is how one could summarize the state of mind of Stefanos Tsitsipas after his second defeat in a Grand Slam final against the same opponent on Sunday. In the wake of a trophy ceremony during which he was very complimentary towards his tormentor of the day Novak Djokovic, the Greek continued on the same tone in front of journalists. Far from being as dejected as he was at the French Open a year and a half ago, he tried to take a step back and underlined the quality of his opponent’s performance.
You know, Novak is a player who pushes you to your limits,” he said. “I don’t see that as a curse, or something boring. It’s very good for the sport to have competitors and champions like him. It is very important for us to reach his level one day. To be spanked like this happens to us (the new generation) is a very good lesson every time. It made me a better player. You really have to give 100 percent and dedicate yourself to the game when you play against him. It’s very important for my career to have a player like him that will help me grow.”
Nevertheless, during this final, Djokovic was not untouchable from the first to the last point as he had been in 2019 for example against Rafael Nadal in Melbourne. For Patrick Mouratoglou, who knows Tsitsipas well, one of the keys to the game for the Greek was to start on the right foot and take advantage of any nervousness of the opponent. However, from the start, the Serb caught his rival off guard, who was visibly more tense. A problem with the approach to the event?
“I had trouble holding my serve at the beginning. I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I was actually excited to have the opportunity to fight for the world number one spot,” Tsitsipas dismissed at first. But he added: “Obviously, I dreamed of lifting the trophy. I literally dreamed about it last night. The desire is really there. I really, really want it. But dreaming is not enough. You have to act, be more present and do better. There were moments when I was close today, but the tie-breaks didn’t show it because of bad starts. I’m going to make the best of it and turn the page.”
Making the best of it is obviously necessary, but perhaps not sufficient. A fan of positive thinking going into this 2023 season, Tsitsipas has made progress in his ability to take the hard hits. After losing the second set in a tie-break or following Djokovic’s immediate break at the beginning of the third, the Greek did not collapse. A few months ago, in a similar situation, he might have lost 6-1 or 6-2 instead of playing a second tiebreak.
But this way of seeing the glass as half full should not turn into a method of Coué, and prevent him from analyzing his flaws. Notably his inability to be aggressive on his second set point, as well as his passivity and nervousness in the hot moments.
“There are things I can really improve on, given what happened. But I don’t think there’s any real reason for this loss to affect me. It’s a step forward. I’m looking forward to getting more points this season, getting bigger results and fighting for big trophies. I really like the way I play, my attitude on the court, my mental stability and my concentration level. There is still a little something to add to the structure of my game. And I look forward to continuing that quest.”
It’s true that compared to the trauma of the French Open, this defeat will probably leave fewer marks. He who had said he didn’t remember it, annoyed by a pre-final question, has in fact recovered his memory. “I was heartbroken in Paris. I was leading two sets to nothing but I didn’t really think about it. Let’s just say I made some bad technical decisions that I’m pretty sure I won’t make again in the future. It was pure stubbornness. I can’t feel the same, because it was a different final,” he observed.
Far from the burnout of 2021, Tsitsipas even hopes that this Australian final will start a positive dynamic. One thing is certain, he still believes in his star. “I see no reason to lower my expectations or goals. I was born a champion. I feel it in my bones. I’ve felt it since I was a kid, it’s something I have in me.”
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