Tennis fans have been waiting, patiently, for someone to break through. To emerge out of the shadows of the Big Four — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray — who have dominated the sport for about 15 years.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has what it takes to do just that.
He showed as much on Thursday, stepping onto centre court at Aviva Centre in Toronto and ending Djokovic’s singles run at the Rogers Cup in Round 3.
The young Greek eliminated the reigning Wimbledon champ in three sets, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, displaying his impressive arsenal of groundstrokes and movement.
The 19-year-old — he turns 20 on Sunday — called it the best win of his career, and the best moment of his life.
“I’ve never felt so many emotions after a victory,” he said after the match.
Tsitsipas, who credited past practice sessions with Djokovic for helping him prepare for their first official meeting, took control with a break in the first set to go up 4-2.
He squandered two break points at 4-4 in the second set before going down in the tiebreaker.
Any momentum Djokovic had appeared to gain by evening the match went for naught in the third set, when the teenager broke him early to take a 2-0 lead.
“I remained calm, I tried a few things that I didn’t try before,” said Tsitsipas of coming back after dropping the second set.
Djokovic, in his first tournament since Wimbledon, was just never able to get comfortable against the young challenger, creating just two break-point opportunities on the day and failing to convert on either.
“He was just serving big, he was serving all corners so I just didn’t really read his serve well,” said Djokovic.
The ATP Tour is stocked full of promising youngsters these days — Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime among them — but consistent performances from the so-called ‘Next Gen’ have been hard to come by, with one exception.
That would be Alexander Zverev, of Germany, who won the Rogers Cup last year and is ranked third in the world at just 21 years of age. He’s the only active male outside the Big Four to have won multiple Masters events, taking home his third such title in Madrid earlier this year.
Up next for Tsitsipas: Zverev, with a trip to the Rogers Cup semifinals on the line. The two met in Washington just last week in their only ATP meeting, with Zverev cruising past a frustrated Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4.
“I learned a lot last week in Washington losing to Alexander,” said Tsitsipas. “…That loss matured me, made me braver, and more experienced. I’m going to use that in my favour for my next match against him and try to get the most out of it, and be more clever … and use my chances.”
It won’t be long before the old guard is physically unable to remain in power, and someone from the ‘Next Gen’ will be counted on to become a consistent force — maybe even the face of the sport.
Tsitsipas is making the case that it could be him, and sooner rather than later.
“He’s definitely one of the leaders of the ‘Next Gen,’ without a doubt,” said Djokovic. “This season he’s had some very good results and terrific wins and he’s showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline.
“He’s putting in the hours in the gym and on the tennis court and it’s paying off.”