Greek philoso­pher who hap­pens to play ten­nis

STE­FANOS TSIT­SI­PAS

Sport360 - - Chess - By Reem Abulleil b @ReemAb­ulleil ✉ reemab­ulleil@sport360.com

If you’ve fol­lowed Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas’ as­cent to the top-15 this sea­son, read his posts on so­cial me­dia, heard him talk in in­ter­views, or watched his travel vlogs on his YouTube chan­nel, you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing how a 20-year-old ten­nis player can be so pen­sive and philo­soph­i­cal.

A few min­utes of chat­ting to his par­ents, Apos­to­los, who is his coach, and Ju­lia Apos­toli, who was a top So­viet player in the 1980s and is cur­rently also coach­ing, will quickly ex­plain where he gets it from.

Tsit­si­pas, who is wrap­ping up his ca­reer-best sea­son as the top seed at the Next Gen ATP Fi­nals in Mi­lan this week, rock­eted up the rank­ings from 91 in the world at the start of 2018, to his cur­rent po­si­tion of No15.

The tall Greek with the Bjorn Borg-like locks is the youngest player in the top-25 and ar­guably the most unique. On the court, he won over the ten­nis world with his big game, fluid sin­gle-handed back­hand, ex­plo­sive dive vol­leys and fun in­terac­tions with the crowd.

Off the court, Tsit­si­pas spends his time film­ing and edit­ing his quirky travel vlogs and tak­ing pho­tos which he posts on his al­ter­na­tive In­sta­gram ac­count, with the han­dle ‘stevethe­hawk’. On that ac­count, he de­scribes him­self as a “world ex­plorer” and “ab­stract pho­tog­ra­pher”. He takes snaps from all the cities he visits through­out the year and cap­tions his posts with in­spi­ra­tional quotes or philo­soph­i­cal re­marks.

“The voy­age of dis­cov­ery is not in look­ing for new land­scapes, but in look­ing with new eyes,” Tsit­si­pas posted a cou­ple of days af­ter his early exit from the Cincin­nati Mas­ters.

“All that is im­por­tant is this one mo­ment in move­ment. Make the mo­ment im­por­tant, vi­tal, and worth liv­ing. Do not let it slip away un­no­ticed, un­used,” he cap­tioned one of his images from the streets of New York City.

His par­ents ad­mire his in­di­vid­u­al­ity and the time and ef­fort he puts into his off-court pas­sions, although his mother ad­mits she isn’t as philo­soph­i­cal as her son.

“I am more prac­ti­cal,” she told Sport360° in Mi­lan.

Her hus­band quickly in­ter­jects: “Even in prac­ti­cal things you need to have a cer­tain phi­los­o­phy for ev­ery­thing. If you want to find the truth, you need to have some ques­tions and you get some an­swers. How will you find the truth? It’s not easy to find it. We are hu­mans, we need to know what is there. We need to have a pur­pose of liv­ing. If you don’t have this, it’s dif­fi­cult.”

Apos­to­los be­lieves his son’s pho­tog­ra­phy and vlog­ging has deeper mean­ing than sim­ply be­ing an out­let to blow off steam off court.

“He wants to give to the so­ci­ety some­thing back, and he’s giv­ing back through the vlogs. He started too early ac­tu­ally in his life,” he ex­plains.

“He even asked me to do a foun­da­tion. He al­ready did a cam­paign dur­ing the fires in Greece. He was help­ing a lot of peo­ple, although he didn’t have the money to do it.

“He was try­ing to find a way to raise aware­ness and funds. And he did it.

“And that week I was with him, he was spend­ing like 10 hours a day try­ing to do this job, and try­ing to send the money to Greece, but it was dif­fi­cult be­cause of the cri­sis, the banks ac­counts were blocked and he was try­ing through con­nec­tions he had through ATP, it was amaz­ing.

“He had to play semis against [Alexan­der] Zverev in Wash­ing­ton, and he was one hour be­fore on his com­puter try­ing to do this job. And then he went to Toronto and he was still try­ing to do this and fi­nally he man­aged it be­fore he played the fi­nal in Toronto.

“It’s unique to see it from a young per­son, to be so de­ci­sive and not to be afraid of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. That’s good for so­ci­ety ac­tu­ally. Hope­fully all the young play­ers, young guys will be in­spired by him, be­cause that’s the mean­ing out of it.”

It’s fair to say that not all of Tsit­si­pas’ peers fully un­der­stand what he’s about. Nick Kyr­gios even mocked his vlogs on so­cial me­dia but Apos­to­los be­lieves his son is un­af­fected by it all.

“Nick Kyr­gios, it’s very dif­fi­cult for him to do this kind of job, be­cause this job takes all your free time. For Ste­fanos free time means 'I do some­thing that helps me to be cre­ative, helps me to be bal­anced'. That’s what helps him,” says Apos­to­los.

“Kyr­gios, his free time is to play bas­ket­ball. So it’s dif­fer­ent things. It doesn’t re­ally take him a lot of time. For Ste­fanos, to do the mon­tage of one vlog, it could take him weeks, it’s very com­pli­cated. But he’s a good child. What I like in him, he says, ‘I would like to be No1 in the world but I wish also the same for ev­ery other player out there fight­ing for that’. That’s a good mind­set and good ap­proach for life.”

The afore­men­tioned week in Toronto saw Tsit­si­pas march into the fi­nal by up­set­ting four top-10 play­ers back-to-back – Do­minic Thiem, No­vak Djokovic, Zverev and Kevin An­der­son – be­fore suc­cumb­ing to Rafael Nadal on what was the Greek’s 20th birth­day.

“It never gets eas­ier. You just get bet­ter,” Tsit­si­pas wrote on the cam­era lens af­ter he de­feated An­der­son to make his first Mas­ters 1000 fi­nal.

Apos­to­los was at a loss for words when asked to ex­plain how his son pulled off that run in Canada.

“I can tell you that made me re­ally im­pressed. If I stop to an­a­lyse this, it’s un­be­liev­able strength. He was re­ally in­spired there,” said the 50-year-old.

“There were a lot of Greeks, they sup­ported him ev­ery day, all week. He was in­spired, he felt like he has one more rea­son to play, and to play well.”

Apos­to­los says he pre­dicted at the start of the year that his son would fin­ish the sea­son in­side the top-20 be­cause he felt he was fi­nally phys­i­cally ready to make the leap.

Ju­lia is proud of Tsit­si­pas’ de­vel­op­ment but is re­served when it comes to prais­ing him.

“I think the progress was good. In terms of phys­i­cally, men­tally he im­pressed me maybe the most. How he was ob­serv­ing his suc­cess him­self, that’s what im­pressed me the most. He was hum­ble and from the other side he was very de­ci­sive, so this com­bi­na­tion is great,” she says.

Tsit­si­pas plans on spend­ing part of his pre-sea­son prepa­ra­tions in Dubai, where he is set to prac­tice with Roger Fed­erer in De­cem­ber.

He will be in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion next year, as he starts off as a top-15 player with a tar­get on his back.

Asked what she thinks he should work on to pre­pare for the chal­lenges ahead of him, his mother said: “He can’t do re­ally much in terms of phys­i­cal or tech­ni­cal im­prove­ment. I think he should be more aware of how to ac­cept his losses be­cause they are go­ing to come. Be­cause still some­times his re­ac­tion is still child­ish, it needs work.

“He has a very nice team, a small team but nice. Maybe he needs to find his pri­vate hap­pi­ness a lit­tle bit, be­cause he’s still sin­gle. It’s good in a way but when you dis­cover some­thing new in your life, and give you a small boost in ev­ery sense, you ex­plore your­self, deeper thoughts, deeper mean­ings, and be­come a wiser per­son in the process.”

On the march: Tsit­si­pas has risen to No15 in the world.

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