With the ‘Week of His Life,’ Stefanos Tsitsipas Bursts Into Tennis’ Elite

TORONTO — Everything about Stefanos Tsitsipas is big and bold, which sets him up perfectly to make a splash at the United States Open in two weeks.

Start with his tongue-twister name (sit-si-pahs), his wild long hair and his bright pink shirt.

Then look at his frame and his big game, which is at its best in the biggest moments. Built like an ancient Greek statue, Tsitsipas is 6 feet 4 inches and all sinewy muscle, giving him power on his serve without sacrificing agility.

And now, check out the roll he is on.

He reached the semifinals of the Citi Open in Washington two weeks ago. Then, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last week, he knocked off four top-10 players — Dominic Thiem; Novak Djokovic, who won Wimbledon last month; Alexander Zverev, who had beaten Tsitsipas in the Citi Open semifinals; and Kevin Anderson, a recent Wimbledon finalist.

Tsitsipas was the youngest player to beat four top-10 opponents at a single tournament since the ATP World Tour was established in 1990. He celebrated his 20th birthday Sunday by fighting it out with one of his idols, top-ranked Rafael Nadal, in the final.

This clash of generations was a repeat of the Barcelona Open final this year, when Nadal defeated Tsitsipas, 6-2, 6-1. Nadal dominated the rematch with almost clinical ease, although the Greek made a spirited comeback before falling, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

After the match, Tsitsipas said he had learned that there was still a wide gap between his game and Nadal’s, calling the 32-year-old Spaniard a “beast” and a “monster” who set out to make him “suffer” on court.

“The patience that Rafa has is amazing,” Tsitsipas said. “He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog.”

Tsitsipas, who was born outside Athens, has come a long way hailing from a country that is hardly a tennis hotbed. Last year at this time, he was ranked No. 168 in the world. After reaching the semifinals in Washington and the final in Toronto in the past two weeks, he rose to No. 15 on Monday.

Since turning pro in 2016, Tsitsipas has become the highest-ranked male Greek player in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Fans at the Rogers Cup witnessed a shooting star last year when Denis Shapovalov of Canada made a run to the semifinals in Montreal as an 18-year-old.

Tsitsipas watched all of Shapovalov’s matches last year on television. “He inspired me so much that I was dreaming of being in his place,” Tsitsipas said.

But there was one big difference.

“I didn’t beat Rafa; he beat Rafa,” Tsitsipas said, getting laughs from the assembled reporters.

Born to a Greek father and a Russian mother, who was a former No. 1-ranked junior player like her son, Tsitsipas started playing at age 3 with his parents, who worked as coaches at a summer resort in Greece. He is the eldest of four children. His sister, Elisavet, and brothers, Petros and Pavlos, also play competitive tennis.

His father, Apostolos Tsitsipas, studied coaching to guide his son and quit his job as a high school teacher to travel with him as a junior. His mother, Julia Apostoli-Salnikova, taught her son about the importance of a rigid training schedule, which was a foundation of the former Soviet system.

Tsitsipas preferred soccer early on, but that changed when he won a tennis tournament at 8 or 9. He began with a two-handed backhand and switched to a one-hander because he wanted to imitate his idol Roger Federer.

“Stefanos is a great listener,” Apostolos said. “He doesn’t speak much, but he’s an amazing listener, since he was a small child. He’s learning through listening. When you’re a good listener, you learn much faster.”

Tsitsipas owes his father for more than just some tennis lessons, however.

A few years ago, he was swimming with a friend on a day off at a Futures event in Greece. He soon drifted out too far amid high waves, and struggled to stay afloat. His father pulled him to safety from the swirling sea, discovering a rock jutting out from the sea to support them above the waves and keep his son from drowning.

“That’s why I tell him to enjoy every moment,” his father said.

That incident gave Stefanos Tsitsipas a new perspective on life and on tennis. He said he had zero fear on the court and understood there was a time to go for your shots and a time to hold back.

He called it playing “aggressive with security,” and he had a motto all week in Toronto: “It never gets easier. You just get better.”

But there have been more promising moments than bad ones lately. A sports psychologist he has been seeing gave him a useful piece of advice: Good players can be exposed on a bad day, so if you can be smart, you can find a way to beat them.

The father-son dynamic can be challenging, especially when your father is your coach. That’s why Tsitsipas retreated to the British Virgin Islands earlier this year to be alone for a week. Now, his odyssey is the talk of the tennis world.

In Toronto, he was embraced especially by the city’s large Greek community, with fans adopting him as their own, waving Greek flags and besieging him with autograph requests. It is not hard to imagine the scene being repeated soon with Greek fans in Queens at the U.S. Open.

In his downtime in Toronto, Tsitsipas dined in the city’s Greek neighborhood, where the annual Taste of the Danforth street festival was taking place.

All the while, Tsitsipas looked like a man who could not believe this good fortune. “I’m like a little kid right now,” he said.

After the crowd of 11,374 sang “Happy Birthday” to Tsitsipas on Sunday, he put the icing on the cake with a gracious signoff.

“I had the week of my life,” he said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B6 of the New York edition with the headline: Phenom’s Game Is as Daunting As His Name. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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