Stefanos Tsitsipas brought with him a treasured piece of the past to Melbourne when he arrived for the Australian Open.
Although it’s a basic T-shirt with the text: USSR 1956, it illustrates something about the fascinating personality behind one of the most exciting talents in tennis.
Sergei Salnikov, Tsitsipas’ maternal grandfather, became an Olympic champion in Melbourne in 1956. He played as a striker for Soviet Union’s football side.
The 22-year-old Greek grandson he never met, is now chasing his first Grand Slam win in the same city 65 years later.
Tsitsipas is very proud of his family. The Australian Open is where Tsitsipas first showed his sporting potential, defeating Roger Federer on the way to the 2019 semi-finals.
He has since won four ATP titles including the ATP Finals of 2019 and is currently ranked sixth around the world.
He is already regarded as a natural heir of the current generation’s most prominent figures. He is an exciting player to watch and a charismatic and refreshing presence on the court.
There is another side to him, which may be surprising.
For a long time, this confident young man struggled with crippling shyness. He says that it continues to influence him.
Tsitsipas, a friend, and another swimmer, nearly drowned in October 2016 when they were dragged out to sea from Crete by a strong, dangerous current. They couldn’t understand what was going on. Both panicked, trying to resist the current as fast as possible, exhausted themselves.
Tsitsipas shares the terrifying experience of following the accident in a powerful video blog that he posted on YouTube. He describes how he felt powerless and convinced he would die. Then, he talks about how he came to terms with the fact that death was inevitable as vivid childhood memories flooded his mind.
He looks back at how the incident changed him. He was only 18 months old when the incident happened. It was “the day that I was supposed lose my life”.
Apostolos saved the young men. Apostolos swam in and saved both young men.
Apostolos explains that what happened was due to a mechanism all human beings, including parents. Miracles happen when this mechanism activates magically, like it did on that day.
This is possible only if we have unconditional faith in the things we do and the people we love. The outcome confirmed our love and faith for each other, and that the sacrifices made are not in vain.
He recalls, “It was difficult for me to speak to people.”
“I think I was an excellent observer and good listener. I was interested in the world. I was always curious about the world and learning from others. My family was always watching me, so I was quiet.
Mouratoglou, a south-french coach, also recognized this character trait. Perhaps the famous French coach is a friend. He was also shy as a child.
Mouratoglou says that Stefanos has created his own inner world and continues to coach Tsitsipas along with Apostolos.
He was introverted at the beginning of his journey, in 2015 when he joined. He was very protective of his family and kept away from others. People who don’t express their emotions create a rich inner life.
“But he understood that we had similar experiences, and we spoke about it. He’s not so shy now, I believe. He has made great progress.”
Tsitsipas says, “There is no more timidity. I like to share my experiences and capture moments in my life online.
“Tennis can be lonely so it is important to have hobbies and other activities that are not related to tennis. Sergei, my grandfather, was also a producer and screenwriter. It was something he enjoyed, it is something that comes from his Russian heritage and it’s in his blood.