Stefanos Tsitsipas’s father is Greek. His mother is Russian. And he believes being a product of two disparate cultures is the foundation for his soaring tennis career.
“It was very important that I came from a second background, that I had two different cultures, Greek and Russian, involved in my life,” Tsitsipas said. “It gave me a whole different perspective about things.”
Ranked 205th a year ago, Tsitsipas, 19, is now 39th. His best results have come on clay, including a run to the final of Barcelona, beating three top-20 players without dropping a set against any. He earned his first victory at a Grand Slam event, beating Carlos Taberner, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3, at the French Open on Monday.
In the second round, Tsitsipas faces seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in Barcelona, 6-3, 6-2.
Tsitsipas is a former No. 1 junior player, just like his mother, Julia Apostoli-Salnikova. She once seemed to be on her way to becoming one of the best tennis players the Soviet Union had produced.
The daughter of an Olympic men’s soccer gold medalist, Apostoli-Salnikova was the highest-ranked woman in the Soviet Union when she was 16 and 17.
She represented the country in Fed Cup, and notched a win over Virginia Wade, a three-time Grand Slam champion, in 1981. But restrictions on her travel and clashes with federation coaches — they took particular umbrage to her having a Yugoslavian boyfriend, she said — limited her opportunities.
“Every Soviet player would have problems like that, but me especially, because I was always in front of the coaches, under their eye,” she said.
For Tsitsipas, that strict Soviet foundation is balanced by optimism and a positive spirit that he credits to his father, who quit his job to travel with him to junior tournaments when he was 11.
“It got more tense when I did all the traveling, but I saw it as something fun for me, something entertaining,” Tsitsipas said. “I tried to be professional and disciplined, but it was nice traveling with my dad. Now, I understand the importance of it, and what a big role it played in my career.”
As he makes his way around the elite professional circuit for the first time, he has found an outlet for his personality: travel vlogging. He earnestly and enthusiastically documents the various tour stops, filming himself as a guide wherever he is that week.
“I want to inspire other people that want to do the same, to give them an idea how the tour works and how tennis is, and how good traveling can be, sometimes,” he said. “It comes naturally, and when I do it, I feel much happier than before.”
Tsitsipas is similarly ebullient on court, using his tall, broad-shouldered frame to maximum effect. He plays assertive tennis, with big serving and a willingness to come forward, using his one-handed backhand to open up the court and his forehand to finish points.
“Confident tennis — it’s the way I’ve been playing all this time,” he said. “It’s all about confidence, and it kind of reflects the person I am, and the way I’ve grown up.”