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“Well, for sure, playing Novak, I practiced almost like a thousand times with him,” Stefanos Tsitsipas said on Wednesday in Toronto. “It’s going to be an interesting match.”
Maybe Djokovic should get some new practice partners. At the French Open, he lost to a frequent workout opponent of his, Marco Cecchinato. And on Thursday, he lost to Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-7 (5) 6-3, at the Rogers Cup.
That’s where the comparisons between Cecchinato and Tsitsipas should end. While the Italian is a 25-year-old journeyman, the Greek is a 19-year-old man on the move. His win over Djokovic was his fourth against a Top 10 player this year, and his first over a Grand Slam champion. In its calmness, intelligence, aggression and seeming nervelessness, it was also one of the most impressive performances we’ve seen from a Next Gen player yet.
“I’ll just play my game, be patient,” Tsitsipas said of his plans for facing the 13-time Grand Slam champ.
He was as good as his word. Tsitsipas was able to impose himself on an off-form Djokovic with his serve and his forehand, and despite a slight hiccup at 4-4 in the second set, he never looked rushed or worried, he never overhit, and he never felt the need to try to redline his game. In the process, Tsitsipas did something rare against Djokovic: he didn’t lose his serve, and he faced just two break points all afternoon.
Tsitsipas artfully balanced margin and aggressiveness, power and thoughtfulness. He stood close to the baseline, stepped around and took control of points with his forehand, and followed it to the net whenever possible. Crosscourt, down the line, inside-out, inside-in: Tsitsipas hit his forehand effectively in every direction.
He finished with 42 winners, 10 more than Djokovic, yet there wasn’t any hint of recklessness or unnecessary flashiness to his game. When it came time to serve for the match at 5-3 in the third set, nothing changed. Tsitsipas double-faulted at 15-0, but then, two points later, he came up with his most spectacularly self-assured forehand winner of the day. Maybe he knew it would take something extra to close out Djokovic, but he also knew he had that something extra in him.
By then, Djokovic could only respond with a smile and a shake of his head. He never found a rhythm in this match. His serve lacked pace, and he had to save eight break points, including two at 4-4 in the second set, to keep the score close. His returns landed in the middle of the court and sat up for Tsitsipas’ next shot. And in the final game, when he had to know the teenager would be nervous, Djokovic missed a pair of easy forehands.
When it was over, Djokovic gave Tsitsipas a congratulatory hug. He knew, like everyone else, that good things were coming for his practice partner. Tsitsipas celebrated the way he had all day: happily, purposefully, but not theatrically. With this kid, it’s all in the balance.
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev headline the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Watch live coverage from four courts on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Monday, August 6th at 11:00 A.M.