TSIT­SI­PAS’ VIC­TORY PUTS BALL IN YOUNG GUNS’ COURT

▶ Greek lat­est first-time win­ner of ATP Fi­nals with­out a ma­jor ti­tle and con­sis­tent chal­lenger to the old guard

The National - News - - SPORT - STEVE LUCKINGS

Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas said he is ready to con­tinue his surge in men’s ten­nis by win­ning his first grand slam ti­tle af­ter win­ning the ATP Fi­nals in Lon­don.

The Greek, 21, was full of con­fi­dence af­ter claim­ing a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 vic­tory over Do­minic Thiem in the sea­son-end­ing final, hav­ing ousted 20-time ma­jor win­ner Roger Fed­erer in the semis.

“I be­lieve I’m re­ally close to being crowned a grand slam cham­pion,” a de­lighted Tsit­si­pas told a bumper crowd at the O2 Arena. “I know these are strong words that I say but I do feel I be­long there.”

Vic­tory saw Tsit­si­pas be­come the youngest win­ner of the tour­na­ment since 2001 and also the fourth first-time cham­pion in as many years at the sea­son fi­nale.

But those past vic­to­ries have so far proved a poor launch­pad for more suc­cess.

Ger­many’s Alex­e­nader Zverev ham­mered No­vak Djokovic in last year’s ATP Fi­nals but en­dured a mis­er­able time at the grand slams.

The Serb, mean­while, lifted the Aus­tralian Open and Wim­ble­don ti­tles to takes his tally at the ma­jors to 16.

Mean­while the hugely tal­ented but frus­trat­ingly in­con­sis­tent Grigor Dim­itrov was crowned end-of-sea­son cham­pion 12 months be­fore Zverev but has not won a ti­tle since beat­ing David Gof­fin in that 2017 final.

In­jury plagued Andy Mur­ray has won only two tro­phies since he se­cured his sole ATP Fi­nals ti­tle in 2016, crown­ing his strong­est sea­son.

Djokovic, 32, was the last of the “Big Three” – also in­clud­ing Rafael Nadal and Fed­erer – to win the sea­son fi­nale, in 2015.

De­spite the glitz and razzmatazz of the ATP Fi­nals, which this year of­fered up an eye-wa­ter­ing $9 mil­lion (Dh33m) in prize money for the eight fi­nal­ists, the grand slams re­main the true barom­e­ter of suc­cess in ten­nis.

Since 38-year-old Fed­erer won his first grand slam in 2003, the Big Three have col­lected an as­ton­ish­ing 55 out of the 66 ma­jors on of­fer, with Mur­ray and

Stan Wawrinka also win­ning three apiece.

There has long been spec­u­la­tion over who of the “next gen­er­a­tion” would have the tal­ent to over­throw the es­tab­lished or­der. How­ever, so far the likes Mi­los Raonic, Dim­itrov and Kei Nishikori have con­sis­tently failed to chal­lenge the dom­i­nant trio.

In fact, Nadal, 33, ended the year as world No 1, hav­ing also col­lected a record-ex­tend­ing 12th French Open and a fourth US Open ti­tle.

That is not to say there is no hope for those younger play­ers.

Rus­sia’s Daniil Medvedev, 23, who along­side Nadal and Djokovic has signed up for De­cem­ber’s Mubadala World Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship in Abu Dhabi, pushed Spaniard Nadal all the way in the US Open final in Septem­ber.

The world No 4 should have avenged the loss at the ATP Fi­nals but he col­lapsed in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, with Nadal sav­ing match point at 1-5 down to pre­vail 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

Zverev then de­mol­ished Nadal to reach the semi-fi­nals in Lon­don, but was dis­ap­point­ing in a straight-sets de­feat against Thiem.

Tsit­si­pas’ im­pres­sive win against Fed­erer in the semi-fi

nals also felt like a state­ment of in­tent – back­ing up his vic­tory against the Swiss at the Aus­tralian Open.

Fed­erer, 38, pre­dicted af­ter that de­feat that 2020 would prove the tough­est yet for the Big Three to main­tain their po­si­tions as undis­puted kings of men’s ten­nis.

“It’s the same ques­tion ev­ery year at the end of the year,” said Fed­erer. “But does it feel like this year might be the best year yet? Pos­si­bly. But then I look at the list of who fin­ished world No 1, who has been world No 1 all these years, and it’s just crazy that it’s al­ways one of us.

“But we are not get­ting any younger. So chances in­crease not be­cause we are get­ting worse but be­cause they are get­ting bet­ter.”

Zverev, 22, pre­dicted next year will bring a new ma­jor cham­pion, say­ing the “young guys are play­ing in­cred­i­ble ten­nis”.

But Tsit­si­pas warned that it was cru­cial to dis­lodge Fed­erer, Nadal and Djokovic in the early rounds as they tend to im­prove as tour­na­ments progress, adding that the five-set for­mat also played into their hands.

“For the young guys it’s all about time,” he said. “I don’t know. We will have to beat them or wait for them.”

AFP; Getty

Clock­wise from right, Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas, 21, lifts the ATP Fi­nals tro­phy, as did Alexan­der Zverev and Grigor Dim­itrov be­fore him

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