Greek tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas feels he owes fellow top-10 player, Russia’s Andrey Rublev, an apology.
After losing to the world No. 8 in the ATP Finals last month in Turin, Tsitsipas said he felt like he was the better and more creative player on the court that day compared to his opponent, adding that Rublev “prevailed with the few tools that he has.”
Rublev’s group-stage triumph secured him a ticket to the semifinals in Turin and spelled the end of Tsitsipas’ 2022 season.
Tsitsipas, understandably, drew lots of criticism online for the statements he made about Rublev’s game and in response taunted his critics in an Instagram post that read: “Dear haters, I have so much for you to be mad at, just be patient.”
Two weeks have passed and the Greek now admits he regrets what he said about Rublev and explained why he made such comments in the first place.
“What I said in that press conference against Rublev was very unfair towards him and not correct,” Tsitsipas told Arab News in an interview on Thursday ahead of his upcoming participation in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.
“I saw it from a sort of different approach; I wanted him to be mad going into his next match (against Casper Ruud), trying to play even better. I’m not going to declare the reasons why because I think it’s quite obvious the situation I was dealing with in the next match if (I) had played that opponent.”
Tsitsipas had wanted to finish the year ranked in the world’s top three but that loss in the ATP Finals, coupled with Rublev’s subsequent defeat to Casper Ruud in the semifinals, meant the Greek fell just short of his goal and concluded his campaign in the No. 4 spot behind Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal and Ruud.
“I really wanted Andrey to win the next match and my approach was to add fuel to the fire a little bit, to make him want to be more hungry and more concentrated on his next match,” Tsitsipas continued.
“I think that was wrong to do, because it felt like, I don’t know, he wasn’t able to perform, I saw the match, I don’t think he performed as good as I would have expected him to perform. That was my only way to finish in the top three if he had won that match.
“I just played a little bit with it and tried to use my chances as much as I could. But of course the best thing would have been to win my match.”
Tsitsipas and Rublev have established a tight on-court rivalry over the last four seasons and they have evenly split their 10 tour-level meetings so far.
“Andrey is an excellent player. He has a great array of weapons that he uses extremely well on the court. He can hit the ball really hard, he’s sort of like the Marat Safin of the new generation,” said Tsitsipas.
“I don’t think he’s limited in his game, I think he’s put himself over many years now on the tour that he’s capable of competing against the best. He’s one of the most disciplined guys out here, who is very professional towards his work. He’s a very funny guy, a very nice soul, I enjoy being around him. He’s extremely friendly and likes to make fun of himself.
“So if I regret saying that? I do regret saying that, yes. It was not very good for me, I was extremely hurt that I wasn’t able to go all the way at the ATP Finals, it hurt me a lot, I tried to let some bad energy out but that wasn’t the responsible or the good way, even if I wanted something out of it, it wasn’t the right way to do it.
“Definitely if I would see him I would like to apologize to him for thinking like this about him because it’s definitely not how I think about him in reality.”
This is the fourth consecutive season that Tsitsipas has ended inside the top six and the Monaco resident is not dwelling too much on the fact he missed out on a top-three finish.
“There are a few things I can improve and manage better in order to get there, but overall if you think about it, I was literally two matches away (from) finishing (as) world No. 1,” he said.
“If I would have won 63 instead of 61 matches — but of course selective, if I had to select which matches I should have won, I could have ended No. 1 this season. So that is to show that I was extremely close to get that privilege of being world No. 1.”
Tsitsipas, who will face Cameron Norrie in his Abu Dhabi opener on Dec. 16, amassed a 61-24 win-loss record in 2022, including two title runs in Monte Carlo and Mallorca.
“I think maintaining that kind of base and taking the right initiatives tournament after tournament is eventually going to give it to me one day,” he said of the No. 1 ranking.
“But I’m not here really for the sprint, I’m here for the marathon. I’m going to be on the tour for many more years and finishing in the top 10 is no easy feat, and it’s extremely challenging to be doing it year after year.
“You need consistent good results to get there, you need to be very focused on your job and have zero to no distractions during the year and you have to be a soldier. You have to wake up thinking about tennis and be extremely disciplined in what you do and include that with some hard work and some dedication to your craft. It never gets easier.
“You might want to make it easier in your mind, you try to find small exits and ways to make this process easier, but trust me it never gets easier. You cannot cheat codes on the ATP tour to make your way through.”
Not so long ago, Tsitsipas was the young up-and-comer trying to pose a threat to tennis’ “Big Three” of Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
He has posted wins against all three of them but has yet to secure a maiden Grand Slam title — his runner-up showing at Roland Garros last year was his best result at a major so far.
At 24, Tsitsipas is now facing a new generation of talent rapidly rising through the ranks with 19-year-old Alcaraz occupying the No. 1 spot and 19-year-old Holger Rune cracking the top 10 last month (he is a combined 0-5 head-to-head against them).
Djokovic, 35, and Nadal, 36, are also still around and winning majors and Tsitsipas finds himself grappling with both generations, the teenagers and the veterans.
“They’re extremely talented and good at what they do,” he said of the younger crew.
“They’re the most challenging thing we have ahead of us going forward. They can hit the ball extremely well, move very good around the court, athletic, have good intuition when it comes to their tennis.
“Of course I was kind of the new generation when I walked in facing Novak and Roger and Rafa the very few first times. I felt like I didn’t have much to lose because I was young and I kind of realized it early on and I was able to perform well against them.
“But now we have to deal with the even younger generation, I’m not 18 anymore, I’m 24 years old and that’s a different phase in my career now, a different step and a different approach that I need to take.
“I see it as a color index, before I was in the blue index where I’m really young and getting to know the tour and now I’m more like in the yellow index. And the next index, which will probably come at the age of 27 or 28, it will be the red index where more experience kicks in, you’ve been around and you’ve seen a lot of things. So I’m still somewhere in-between the middle I would say.”