The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Stefanos Tsitsipas

The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Stefanos Tsitsipas

He's the only member of the 21 & Under Club to have beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

As we reveal this year's edition of The 21 & Under Club, we'd like to call your attention to Team Luke Hope for Minds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports families with children who have suffered an acquired brain injury. Headed by former Texas Tech tennis coach Tim Siegel—whose son, Luke, suffered severe head and chest trauma from a golf cart accident which resulted in an anoxic brain injury—Team Luke Hope for Minds has lost numerous fundraising opportunities throughout 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about the organization, and for information on how to donate, go to teamlukehopeforminds.org


ATP Rank: No. 6
UTR Rank: No. 4
What he's done since last summer: Won the ATP Finals

Since 2004, the Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 51 out of 61 Grand Slam singles titles. It’s been an era of unprecedented dominance. But at some point, the legendary trio will retire, and the door for tennis’ next global superstars will be wide open.

Surely Dominic Thiem will capture a few French Opens after Nadal’s era ends; he’s reached the final there twice already. Alexander Zverev owns 11 titles, and dominated Djokovic at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals. Daniil Medvedev came close to Grand Slam glory when he reached the 2019 US Open final, and will no doubt find himself in the winner's circle at some point. But which player will wrestle away the top spot and vault himself into rarified, double-digit major championship air? If you’re asking me, it’s either Jannik Sinner or Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas stormed onto the scene in 2018 when he defeated four consecutive Top-10 players en route to the Toronto Masters final, the youngest player since 1990 to accomplish such a feat. In 2019 he captured the season-ending 2019 ATP Finals after reaching two ATP Masters 1000 finals and the Australian Open semifinals. That momentum carried over into 2020, where Tsitsipas won 10 of his last 11 matches before the tour was suspended in early March.

Then there's this: Tsitsipas is the only member of the 21 & Under Club to defeat Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. He’s as multidimensional as they come, he has the serve, shotmaking, movement and net game, and he perhaps the strongest will to win of all his young peers. At 21 years old, Tsitsipas’ physical prime will likely occur shortly after the Big 3 hang up their racquets. Timing is everything, and Tsitsipas’ couldn’t be better. 


Strengths

Stefanos' father, Apostolos, rather generously compared his son’s forehand to Juan Martin del Potro’s. But then again, so did Cliff Drysdale, who has seen it all throughout his 50 years as a player and broadcaster. So there’s definitely something to it.

What makes Tsitsipas' forehand so lethal, aside from its raw power, is its unpredictability.

It’s not necessarily the quality of this forehand winner against Thiem, it’s that Thiem has no clue where it’s going. Tsitsipas shares Federer’s unique ability to hold his forehand until the last second, which forces players to guess early. 

“Inside-in, inside-out, it's all the same. It's basically what you feel more comfortable with,” Tsitsipas told ATPTour.com about his forehand. “At the moment, I feel more comfortable with my inside-in. Sometimes I feel playing inside-out a bit more. It's also from the position of your opponent.

“If you see your opponent is covering his forehand side more, that's how you decide where you're going to go.”

Former Deadspin and current Racquet contributor Giri Nathan had this to say about tennis' Greek Freak: “Tsitsipas gradually sinks his racket into the pocket, and then, as soon as the ball comes into range, rips through it in a blink, as if he had been waiting patiently for a fly to land before smacking it dead with a frying pan. The effect is jarring, which has benefits: It’s hard to read, to discern whether lightning will strike inside-out or inside-in.”

What separates Tsitsipas from his peers is his all-court prowess. He has, by far, the best net game of any young player on tour. His signature shot is his diving volley, which he makes look way too easy, as all great players do.

But even when he’s not flying perpendicular in mid-air, he covers the net like no one else.

You aren’t going to beat Nadal or Djokovic from the baseline—you have to come forward, whether you want to or not. Tsitsipas commits in this clip, and is rewarded.

Tsitsipas is a nightmare to pass.

Here, he quickly follows his drop shot to the net, knowing Thiem has to hit up on the ball. Such anticipation troubles even his best opponents.


Concerns

Like Sofia Kenin, if you had to pick something, it’s the serve. Jim Courier often notes that too much of Tsitipas' energy goes sideways, instead of forward into the court. It’s nit-picky, but his serve does have room for improvement, especially given his imposing stature. More "free" points are never a bad thing.

Tsitsipas is hitting a kick-serve, but still, not enough energy is flowing forward into the court. (Getty Images) 


Comparable: Pete Sampras

You would think Tsitsipas idolized Federer growing up—they use a similar grip, both hit one-handed backhands and glide gracefully around the court—but he favored another all-time great, who he not only shares stylistic similarities with, but also a Spartan bloodline. Tsitsipas wrote on his Instagram page about Pete Sampras, Despite being at the end of his career, my childhood was filled with Sampras matches and battles that I will never forget. This person has given me the courage and eagerness to pursue my dream. A dream that felt insanely difficult to reach."

Given the Greek’s rapid rise and still-young age, a Sampras-like career is not out of the question. 


The Class of 2020 is now on TENNIS.com and Baseline.

Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez  | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic