Stefanos Tsitsipas is targeting a run to the Australian Open final next month and believes fan support in Melbourne could give him a “huge advantage” in his pursuit of a first Grand Slam title.
Tsitsipas made his mark at the first major of the year this January by reaching the semi-finals, defeating defending champion Roger Federer in the fourth round before his run was abruptly ended by Rafael Nadal.
It proved the start of a remarkable breakthrough year for the 21-year-old Greek, though, who won three titles including the season-ending ATP Finals and ended the year ranked world No 6.
Following a brief off-season, Tsitsipas stepped up his preparations for the new year at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi where he finished runner-up after losing a thrilling three-set final against Nadal on Saturday night.
He will soon make his way to Australia to compete in the ATP Cup, before aiming to become the first player not named Nadal, Federer, or Novak Djokovic to win a major since Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2016.
“I want to do even better than I did last year, that’s for sure,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s about trying to play my best at every location. Obviously, fan support plays an important role. It is a huge advantage for me, playing in Australia [where Greeks are the seventh largest ethnic group].
“At the same time, I will be taking it one step at a time and not thinking about it too much. I am happy where I am already and I am trying to improve to get better, so there is nothing to worry about.
“I’m trying to eliminate the stress and that also comes from experience. This year was the first time I had points to defend and I was very stressed as it was my first time experiencing something like this.
“I feel like you have to be relaxed and not think about it because this year I was tense and putting a lot of pressure on myself. If it comes, it comes; I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Tsitsipas proved a big hit on his debut appearance at MWTC, thrilling the crowd with his entertaining brand of tennis and engaging personality. His popularity was evident in the final when he had the majority of the support toward the end of the match - a rare achievement for most players when competing against a legend like Nadal.
“I deserve that! It’s about time,” he said when asked if he was surprised by how much support he received. “[Other players] have been waiting so long, so why not?
“I believe it’s important to have a good fanbase, when people like you, trust you, believe in you and I’m trying to show love. I’m not pretending or faking anything, this is me.
“It can be difficult sometimes when I get messages and lots of people expect replies from me, but I love my fans because they make me [feel like] a football team: Tsitsipas Football Club.”