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Australian Open: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ family bond & the day he nearly drowned

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Stefanos Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas nearly drowned when swimming in Crete in October 2016

When Stefanos Tsitsipas arrived in Melbourne for the Australian Open, amongst his baggage was a much-loved hyperlink to the previous.

It’s a easy merchandise – a T-shirt that reads: USSR 1956 – however it helps illustrate one thing of the distinctive character behind certainly one of tennis’ most intriguing abilities.

In 1956, Tsitsipas’ maternal grandfather Sergei Salnikov turned an Olympic champion in Melbourne, enjoying as a striker for the Soviet Union’s soccer staff.

Some 65 years later, the 22-year-old Greek grandson he by no means met is chasing his first Grand Slam victory in that very same metropolis.

Family means so much for Tsitsipas. And so does the Australian Open – this was the place he first introduced his sporting potential by defeating his idol Roger Federer on his option to the 2019 semi-finals.

Since then, he has received 4 ATP titles, together with the ATP Finals of 2019, and is at present ranked sixth in the world.

Already seen as a pure inheritor to the present technology’s dominant figures, he is thrilling to observe, and a charismatic, refreshing presence on and off the court docket. But there’s one other, maybe surprising aspect to him.

This outwardly assured younger man for a very long time struggled with crippling shyness, and stays deeply affected by a unprecedented near-death expertise he says continues to form him nonetheless.

Short presentational grey line

The early elements of Tstisipas’ story would possibly really feel acquainted to the tennis world. He started enjoying at a really younger age, inspired and assisted by mother and father with a background in the sport. His mom Julia Apostoli was herself knowledgeable, and she or he and husband Apostolos Tsitsipas labored as tennis lecturers in the Athens suburbs.

“My mum was also my coach when I was younger so she taught me a lot, including discipline, generosity and kindness,” Tsitsipas tells BBC Sport.

“My dad had a big influence too. And he still has today. He’s the reason I have developed my game. His guidance and life advice helped me to mature.”

The younger Tstisipas was extraordinarily proficient, beloved enjoying and loved important early success – he was a junior world primary. At the age of 16 he started elite coaching at an academy on the French Riviera run by Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach.

But inside his story are many extra distinctive particulars, certainly one of which is actually exceptional.

Tsitsipas family portrait, with Tsitsipas aged 16 or 17
‘My family is my stability and I owe so much to them,’ says Tsitsipas

In October 2016, swimming off the coast of Crete, Tsitsipas and a pal nearly drowned after being dragged out to sea by a sudden, harmful present. Neither might perceive what has occurring. They each panicked and frantically tried to combat the present, exhausting themselves in the course of.

In a strong, nine-minute video weblog revealed on his YouTube channel, Tsitsipas describes the horror of the expertise that adopted; how he felt completely powerless and was satisfied he would die, how he made peace with dying as vivid recollections of his childhood flashed throughout his thoughts.

He displays on the approach the incident has matured and adjusted him – he had turned 18 solely two months earlier than – the way it has made him “fearless”. He calls it “the day I was supposed to lose my life”.

It was Apostolos who saved each younger males. He swam in after them and by some means managed to assist them again to security.

“What happened was the result of a mechanism all humans have inside, especially parents,” Apostolos says. “When this mechanism magically activates, as it did that day, miracles occur.

“An important situation for this to occur is the unconditional religion we’ve in what we do and what we love. What occurred confirmed the love and religion we’ve for each other, that the sacrifices we make usually are not in useless.”

In his video weblog, Tsitsipas says of his dad: “If we had been alleged to die and lose our lives that day, we must do it collectively. He was a hero.

“That was the day I saw life with a different perspective. I remember after that how much psychologically it changed me.”

Tsitsipas now sees himself as anyone who “understands life better, a person who takes better decisions”. Part of that course of has additionally been influenced by occasions of the previous yr.

He says: “I was very lost at the beginning [of 2020]. I had never faced something like this pandemic, being away from competition and staying in one place. But I did see that as an opportunity to expand and try new things, which I’m super grateful for. It gave me time to reflect, to see different sides of things.

“I’ve matured so much emotionally and mentally.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas’ first main victory got here at the ATP Finals of 2019

That development can be seen not just on the court but in the travel videos he publishes on YouTube, in his photography or podcasts. Tsitsipas enjoys various ways of expressing himself.

“For me it is a way of life in the second. It offers me lots of freedom. I be at liberty, like I’m in my very own world. It appears like an escape from tennis, like a pastime that would doubtlessly result in a second job one day,” he says.

Growing up, however, Tsitsipas was shy. He was bullied at school.

“It wasn’t straightforward for me to speak to folks,” he remembers.

“I suppose I used to be a very good observer and a very good listener. I used to be interested in the world. I used to be very curious to see what folks needed to say and was studying from them. I used to be very quiet round my family, at all times observing.”

That character trait was also spotted by Mouratoglou in the south of France. The renowned French coach is perhaps something of a kindred spirit. He too lived a childhood marked by shyness.

“Stefanos developed his personal interior world,” says Mouratoglou, who, along with Apostolos, still coaches Tsitsipas.

“At the starting, when he joined in 2015, he was very introverted. He used to remain inside his family atmosphere, away from the others. When folks do not present their feelings, they create a really wealthy interior life.

“But he understood that I had kind of the same experiences and we talked about it. I think he’s not that shy now. He’s made a lot of progress.”

Tsitsipas provides: “There is no more shyness. I’m a person who likes to capture moments of my life, have my thoughts and my experiences shared online because that’s how it works these days.

“Tennis is a lonely sport so having hobbies and issues to do besides enjoying tennis is essential for somebody’s psychological well-being. My grandfather Sergei was additionally a producer, a screenwriter. He loved doing that, I suppose it comes from my Russian aspect and it is in my blood.”

Tsitsipas' parents Julia and Apostolos watch on at the delayed French Open last year
Tsitsipas’ mother and father Julia and Apostolos watch on at the delayed French Open final yr

Despite – or perhaps because of – their close bond, there are still moments of public tension in the Tsitsipas family.

At the ATP Cup in January 2020, Tsitsipas accidentally hurt his dad as he smashed a racket at the side of the court.

A month later at an event in Dubai, he said he sometimes felt his parents were “approach too concerned” in his career. In response, his mother decided to attend one of his news conferences, posing him a series of questions about the importance of family to success in tennis, putting the young man in an awkward situation.

“When Stefanos was youthful, it was simpler,” Apostolos says. “My double position must be reconsidered with him rising older. I would like to grasp that he’s taking over extra duties and selections. I must take heed to him way more.

“He has worked hard for the past two years. He’s played a lot of matches, semi-finals, finals, tough matches that brought him more experience.

“He’s taking some selections alone, selecting particulars he needs to give attention to and the approach he’s organising his work and his staff. He’s assuming his duties, he is aware of the place he needs to go and the way. It brings a greater power.”

Tsitsipas says: “It works fairly effectively. We have good chemistry. We combat typically however at the finish of the day we do not separate, we’re at all times right here for one another. He is an excellent individual, he has a very good coronary heart.

“My family is my stability and I owe a lot to them.”

Short presentational grey line

Just how far can Tsitsipas go? He and his staff have excessive hopes for this month, for starters. In some methods it might be the excellent place for that first large win, given Melbourne’s important Greek neighborhood.

Greece has maybe by no means been thought of a serious tennis nation, however that mentality has modified with Tsitsipas climbing the rankings. Already he is their finest participant in historical past.

“Stefanos has the potential to win various Grand Slam tournaments,” says Mouratoglou, who himself has Greek roots.

Apostolos says: “I think he’s ready to win a Grand Slam. Psychologically, also. He believes in his capacities and no-one know his limits.”

For Tsitsipas, his family and his nation, it is a possibility to put in writing a major new chapter.

“I see this just as the beginning,” says Tsitsipas.

“I’m sure if I win the Grand Slam I would make my grandfather very proud. If I work hard enough and have a little bit of luck, too, then, yes.

“It can be the finest second of my profession, for positive.”

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