The Greek sports scene is in the midst of some kind of renaissance.
After Giannis Antetokounmpo, who rose from unproven international prospect to NBA MVP last season, another star emerges from a previously unheralded sport.
Tennis is not popular in Greece, but 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas is slowly making a name for himself across the globe. Now perched in the sixth spot of the men’s tennis ATP rankings, Tsitsipas is being regarded as the reason why numerous kids are now looking to take up tennis in Greece.
According to Tsitsipas, tennis is now among the five most popular sports in his country, along with football, basketball, and others he didn’t mention such as athletics and volleyball.
“Not that Greece can share a tradition with tennis. Most of them went abroad to master their skills in tennis and follow a more consistent and more advanced conditions and training and everything that requires to be a good tennis player,” he recalled.
After being recruited by famed coach Patrick Mouratoglou to his academy during his teenage years, he has blossomed to become the player he is today.
“People are becoming more aware of what is happening with our careers, and they follow. They watch and stay up late for our matches,” shared Stefanos.
His popularity knows no bounds, as made evident by hundreds of people lining up and seeing him dominate the Philippines in their Davis Cup World Group II playoff tie on Friday and Saturday in Paco.
Dozens of hopefuls flocked to the venue to get a glimpse of this young athlete, and Tsitsipas repaid them, devoting time to take pictures and sign autographs.
Safe to say, he fell in love with a country he did not expect to visit in his life.
“I really like it here, I won’t lie,” he told reporters and his fans during the post-game press conference. “And I’ve met some really positive people the last couple of days and brought me joy and just very charming people that showed their love to me, their appreciation for being here and I am going to give back the same thing to them.”
Before heading over to the United States as a participant in the Indian Wells Masters, he also expressed his intention of returning to the Philippines for a vacation in the near future.
Tsitsipas, who scored similar 6-2, 6-1 wins over his two opponents in the tie, will be also setting his sights on playing in the Tokyo Olympics later this year. He needs to play at least two Davis Cups in order to barge through.
According to Greek non-playing team captain Dimitris Chatzinikolaou, playing for Greece in tennis’ biggest competition will always be welcome for Tsitsipas, as it breaks the monotony of a year-long schedule of flying to play in professional tournaments alone.
“Stefanos will continue to play Davis Cup because we are family,” explained Chatzinikolaou. “We are friends. He feels comfortable and he likes to travel as a team because the whole year, he travels alone and so he loves to be with friends and the team. So I think he will continue to play in the Davis Cup.”
If circumstance permits, Tsitsipas will not only play in singles competition, but in mixed doubles action as well, along with Maria Sakkari, another rising star for Greece. She is currently ranked 20th in the women’s singles rankings.
But for now, he is just thankful that Greece had returned to the World Group II main tournament after many years.
“Personally, I’m excited. I hope it fits well with the schedule after the US swing. Ready to represent Greece one more time and give it my best.”