Not since the emergence of Rafael Nadal has someone appeared so destined for the top of men’s tennis. Not even Roger Federer, as undoubtedly great as he became, looked so complete at such a young age. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had to work at their greatness too. Stefanos Tsitsipas, however, has the natural air of someone special.
It’s in the way he acts, in the way he looks (the Greek is a man built to appear on a billboard), but primarily in the way he plays. Tsitsipas’ style is as well-rounded as it is thrilling. He has the weapons to trouble the very best and he’s still only 20 years old. He is the new star the men’s game has been waiting for.
Of course, there has been similar talk about certain other players before. The so-called ‘Next Gen’ of men’s tennis, the crop that was meant to succeed and topple the ‘Big Three’ plus Murray and Stan Wawrinka as the sport’s dominant pack, has so far failed to live up to their billing. In fact, in some instances it’s doubtful that some members of the ‘Next Gen’ will ever make their long-awaited breakthrough
Take Grigor Dimitrov, for instance. Like Tsitsipas, he too was burdened with the ‘New Federer’ tag from a young age, but the Bulgarian, now 28 years old, remains without a Grand Slam title to his name and has dropped well outside the top 10 (currently ranked 46).
Milos Raonic is another ‘Next Gen’ star who has so far failed to shine as brightly as many predicted. Back in 2016, a Grand Slam breakthrough seemed only a matter of time for the Canadian, making the semi final of the Australian Open and the final of Wimbledon in the one year. Retrospectively, that now looks to be his peak rather a precursor.
There is still hope for Sasha Zverev, given that he is still only 22, but even he, with all his obvious talent and potential, has struggled to translate his Masters form into Grand Slam success, only ever making it as far as the quarter finals of a major. A breakthrough is required soon or the German risks becoming another player defined by his potential rather than his achievements.
Tsitsipas, despite only breaking through into the mainstream consciousness last year, is closer to making a breakthrough than any other young prospect. Of all the players tipped to crash the ‘Big Three’s’ party, the Greek looks the closest to actually doing it having made a real impression at the two Grand Slams this year and making the final of the Madrid Masters.
“I would love to see something different this year. Hopefully it will be me,” said the 20-year-old in an interview given before his involvement at Queen’s. "It would give it a little bit of variety, something different. Some don't want to take the responsibility of going out and overcoming all those difficulties and beat those guys. We are responsible as the new generation to work hard to come up with something new and our best games to beat them.”
Wimbledon, which gets under way in just two weeks, could be where Tsitsipas makes good on his vow, although grass is perhaps the one surface where the Greek has yet to prove himself. It’s where the true greats of the game are defined and in Tsitsipas it could define the game’s next great.