Entering the 2019 Millennium Estoril Open, Stefanos Tsitsipas had lost five of his previous nine matches. The Greek was trying to find his footing on the Portuguese clay. He had already cracked the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, but the rising star was trying to push even higher.

Little did the Greek know that he would do more than find his footing — he’d set a path towards the best season of his young career.

Tsitsipas only dropped one set en route to his first clay-court ATP Tour title, defeating Uruguayan magician Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-6(4) in the final.

“You really have to fight hard and give your soul out on the court. This title means a lot to me. It’s on clay, it’s one of my preferred surfaces,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s nice to have completed the clay-hard court title [sweep] that I’ve been fighting for. Next is grass, or maybe even more clay-court titles this year, that would be wonderful.”

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Tsitsipas Wins First Clay-Court Title In Estoril

Tsitsipas revealed after the match that Cuevas was one of the players he looked up to. The trick-shot master had put on a show all week in Estoril, but he had few answers for the Greek.

Tsitsipas looked to be cruising to the title, up a break and serving at 4-3 in the second. But the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion lost his way and was broken for the first time in the match during a stretch of nine consecutive points won by Cuevas. Tsitsipas saved a set point at 4-5, Ad-Out, however, and the two traded breaks until the tie-break, where the Greek regained his level.

“I was very calm. I stayed aggressive, stayed motivated, didn’t think too much,” Tsitsipas said. “He didn’t get into my head after he broke me back in the second set. That was kind of frustrating, but I kept fighting, kept believing that I can still win it in two sets.”

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The triumph gave Tsitsipas plenty of momentum, which he harnessed masterfully with runs to the final of the Mutua Madrid Open and the semi-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Before 2019, Tsitsipas had won one total main draw match in Madrid and Rome.

“I’ve been building my game. It hasn’t been an easy transition from hard to clay this year,” Tsitsipas said. “I’ve been trying to play as many matches as I can before the big events start.”

That paid dividends. Although Tsitsipas’ 2019 season might be remembered for his charge to the title at the Nitto ATP Finals, he also proved that he is a force to be reckoned with on clay. A lot of the confidence that allowed him to make those big ATP Masters 1000 runs could be credited to his run in Estoril.