“Like mother, like son.” That’s what Stefanos Tsitsipas began to tell himself as he got closer to the title in Monte Carlo. His mom, Julia Apostoli, had won an event there as a young woman 40 years ago. By the time her son reached the semifinals this week, he said he was “thinking that it would be really cool to be in this together,” and to see his name carved with hers in the list of champions.
“I think first time I walked in that club, in the Monte Carlo Country Cub, with my mom, I think that was when I was 6 years old,” said Tsitsipas, who attended the tournament each year with his family. “She showed me that name up there. I remember seeing it for the first time. I was, like, stunned. I was like, ‘Wow, that is really cool. How cool is that?’”
“I feel like there was an enormous amount of willingness to want to do more in order to be there with my mom.”
Tsitsipas did do more this week. The 22-year-old won his first Masters 1000 title, and he did it without dropping a set. In the final, against one of his closest rivals, Andrey Rublev, Tsitsipas was in command from start to finish. Normally, when we think of these two, we think of Tsitsipas having an advantage in the variety department; his one-handed backhand allows him to come to net and use his drop shot. But he didn’t need anything extra today.
Tsitsipas won with first-strike, front-foot, one-two-punch, serve-forehand tennis. His first serve was clicking, but as Tennis Channel’s Jim Courier pointed out, Tsitsipas was also hitting his second serve 17 miles per hour faster than Rublev was. From the baseline, Tsitsipas worked the corners, and had the confidence to go down the line whenever he felt like it. He converted his only break chance in the first set, and didn’t show any signs of nerves as he ran away with the second for a 6-3, 6-3 win that was, at least on the surface, as routine as it sounds. Tsitsipas only needed to hit one drop shot all day.
Getty Images: Stefanos with mom Julia and dad Apostolos.
“It was all about fighting in the end,” Tsitsipas said. “The last point was just trying to play as deep as possible, press if the ball comes short. Yeah, I was doing exactly what I had to. The intentions were right.”
Rublev’s intentions had been right all week, too, but the flesh wasn’t willing today. To reach the final, he had survived two draining three-setters against Roberto Bautista Agut and Rafael Nadal, and they caught up with him.
“I’m happy with the week because I beat so many great players. I beat one of the best players in history,” said Rublev, who was also trying to win his first Masters 1000. “Not always everything goes your way. It’s happen today. I was completely exhausted. Stefanos, he showed great game. He was just better than me, and that’s it.”
“I hope it’s the beginning of something,” Rublev said, despite his disappointment. In a small and tentative way, this week did feel like another step into the future for the men’s game. When Monte Carlo began, the talk was all about Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the top two seeds, and their return to the tour. By the end, the Spaniard and the Serb were gone, and in their place were two of the leading lights of the ATP’s next generation. The draw didn’t go to form, but it wasn’t random, either. Tsitsipas and Rublev have the most wins of anyone on tour in 2021.
“We have a rivalry already. It’s building up,” Tsitsipas said when he was asked about living up to the “epic rivalries” of the Big 3. “I feel like in our circumstances, the way it’s going to be in this era, there are going to be much more rivalries than just one. It won’t be singular. Me with Zverev, me with Sinner, me with Berrettini. There are going to be a lot of rivalries out there. I think this variety that tennis is going to receive is going to make it really exciting.”
“It’s just the beginning,” said Tsitsipas, who is now No. 1 in the race to the ATP Finals in Turin. “We still have plenty of tennis to be played this year.”
For now Tsitsipas has made the clay swing a little more intriguing. He teared up as he celebrated with his family, including his mother, in Monte Carlo. The next question for him may be: Can he hoist the trophy at a few big events that she never won?