Stefanos Tsitsipas was born into a family with a great sporting heritage. His grandfather, Sergei Salnikov, was a gold medallist in football at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, but it was another sporting family member who acted as the inspiration for one of his greatest triumphs on the ATP Tour.
This week, Tsitsipas had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his mother and former tennis professional, Julia Salnikova. It was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands.
Thirty years after Salnikova claimed a junior title at the Monte-Carlo Country Club in 1981, Tsitsipas joined his mother on the Monte-Carlo honour roll with a 6-3, 6-3 triumph against Andrey Rublev on Sunday.
“[To share] this is incredible. [The] first time I walked in that club, the Monte-Carlo Country Cub, with my mom, I think that was when I was six years old. She showed me her name up there. I remember seeing it for the first time. I was stunned. I was like, ‘Wow. That is really cool.’ How cool is that?”
Tsitsipas didn’t give his opportunity to add to his family’s Monte-Carlo success story much thought until it came within touching distance this weekend. From the semi-finals, the Greek dropped just nine games across four sets to charge past Daniel Evans and Rublev and add his name to the Monte-Carlo history books.
“I didn’t think about it in the beginning of the tournament, but it came to my mind when I was playing the semi-finals,” said Tsitsipas. “I was thinking that [it] would be really cool to be in this together, like mother like son. That’s where the whole purpose came from. I feel like there was an enormous amount of willingness to want to do more in order to be there with my mom.”
“[There are] two people I would like to dedicate this [title to]. My coach back in Greece, who I mentioned [in the trophy ceremony], and also my mom, because she pushed me to aim for that.”
Despite the pressure of family connections and the opportunity to win his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown, Tsitsipas was able to maintain his focus and become only the third active player to win his first Masters 1000 title without dropping a set (also Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov). The World No. 5 was dominant on serve in the championship match against Rublev, but Tsitsipas highlighted another interesting key to his victory in his post-match press conference.
“Breathing is something I’ve been working on [in] the past couple of months with my psychologist,” said Tsitsipas. “I find breathing very important, especially when I’m performing or playing. Breathing helps me control myself and have full control of what I’m doing out there.
“It is definitely something that I’ve been putting a lot of work [into] in the past couple of weeks with him. Actually, this week more than the other weeks, doing it daily after every single match that I played… When you breathe well, I feel like your game is capable of reaching the top.”
Tsitsipas’ final win earned him a 4-3 ATP Head2Head advantage against Rublev in one of the most exciting young rivalries on the ATP Tour. Tsitsipas had lost his previous match against Rublev in last month’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament semi-finals in Rotterdam, but his victory in the Principality marked his second consecutive win against the Russian on clay. Tsitsipas also defeated Rublev in straight sets in last year’s Roland Garros quarter-finals.
“The rivalry that I had shared with Andrey is quite significant. We grew up playing together in juniors… We have developed together,” said Tsitsipas. “It’s nice that we’re able to be in the same environment now on the ATP Tour together after so many years… It’s been a long journey to be here, to be able to play against each other in a big final like this. I’m pretty sure we’re going to play each other many more times. I tell you it won’t be easy. It only gets more difficult and more painful.”
Earlier this month at the Miami Open presented by Itau, Tsitsipas held points for a 6-2, 3-0 lead against eventual champion Hubert Hurkacz. After that encounter, Tsitsipas described how he had missed an opportunity to ‘show something greater’. When he earned another opportunity in the Principality this week, he made sure he took his chance.
“I didn’t see [a] reason for me to leave from here without the trophy. I felt like I deserved it,” said Tsitsipas. “I’ve put so much effort and so much concentration into it. [It is] definitely something that I deserve.
“More opportunities like this [are] going to show up and come up in the future, so I need to be ready to show my consistency.”