When Stefanos Tsitsipas arrived in Melbourne for the Australian Open, amongst his baggage was a much-loved hyperlink to the previous.
It is a easy merchandise – a T-shirt that reads: USSR 1956 – nevertheless it helps illustrate one thing of the distinctive persona behind one in every of tennis’ most intriguing abilities.
In 1956, Tsitsipas’ maternal grandfather Sergei Salnikov turned an Olympic champion in Melbourne, enjoying as a striker for the Soviet Union’s soccer crew.
Some 65 years later, the 22-year-old Greek grandson he by no means met is chasing his first Grand Slam victory in that very same metropolis.
Household means quite a bit for Tsitsipas. And so does the Australian Open – this was the place he first introduced his sporting potential by defeating his idol Roger Federer on his technique to the 2019 semi-finals.
Since then, he has gained 4 ATP titles, together with the ATP Finals of 2019, and is presently ranked sixth on the earth.
Already seen as a pure inheritor to the present technology’s dominant figures, he’s thrilling to observe, and a charismatic, refreshing presence on and off the court docket. However there’s one other, maybe surprising facet to him.
This outwardly assured younger man for a very long time struggled with crippling shyness, and stays deeply affected by a rare near-death expertise he says continues to form him nonetheless.
The early elements of Tstisipas’ story would possibly really feel acquainted to the tennis world. He started enjoying at a really younger age, inspired and assisted by dad and mom with a background within the sport. His mom Julia Apostoli was herself knowledgeable, and she or he and husband Apostolos Tsitsipas labored as tennis lecturers within the Athens suburbs.
“My mum was additionally my coach once I was youthful so she taught me quite a bit, together with self-discipline, generosity and kindness,” Tsitsipas tells BBC Sport.
“My dad had an enormous affect too. And he nonetheless has at the moment. He is the rationale I’ve developed my sport. His steering and life recommendation helped me to mature.”
The younger Tstisipas was extraordinarily proficient, beloved enjoying and loved important early success – he was a junior world primary. On the age of 16 he started elite coaching at an academy on the French Riviera run by Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach.
However inside his story are many extra distinctive particulars, one in every of which is really exceptional.
In October 2016, swimming off the coast of Crete, Tsitsipas and a pal almost drowned after being dragged out to sea by a sudden, harmful present. Neither may perceive what has occurring. They each panicked and frantically tried to battle the present, exhausting themselves within the course of.
In a strong, nine-minute video weblog printed on his YouTube channel, Tsitsipas describes the horror of the expertise that adopted; how he felt completely powerless and was satisfied he would die, how he made peace with demise as vivid recollections of his childhood flashed throughout his thoughts.
He displays on the way in which the incident has matured and adjusted him – he had turned 18 solely two months earlier than – the way it has made him “fearless”. He calls it “the day I used to be alleged to lose my life”.
It was Apostolos who saved each younger males. He swam in after them and someway managed to assist them again to security.
“What occurred was the results of a mechanism all people have inside, particularly dad and mom,” Apostolos says. “When this mechanism magically prompts, because it did that day, miracles happen.
“A vital situation for this to occur is the unconditional religion now we have in what we do and what we love. What occurred confirmed the love and religion now we have for each other, that the sacrifices we make usually are not in useless.”
In his video weblog, Tsitsipas says of his dad: “If we had been alleged to die and lose our lives that day, we must do it collectively. He was a hero.
“That was the day I noticed life with a distinct perspective. I keep in mind after that how a lot psychologically it modified me.”
Tsitsipas now sees himself as any individual who “understands life higher, an individual who takes higher selections”. A part of that course of has additionally been influenced by occasions of the previous yr.
He says: “I used to be very misplaced at first [of 2020]. I had by no means confronted one thing like this pandemic, being away from competitors and staying in a single place. However I did see that as a chance to develop and check out new issues, which I am tremendous grateful for. It gave me time to replicate, to see completely different sides of issues.
“I’ve matured quite a bit emotionally and mentally.”
That growth may be seen not simply on the court docket however within the journey movies he publishes on YouTube, in his images or podcasts. Tsitsipas enjoys numerous methods of expressing himself.
“For me it is a way of life within the second. It offers me lots of freedom. I be happy, like I am in my very own world. It seems like an escape from tennis, like a interest that would doubtlessly result in a second job at some point,” he says.
Rising up, nevertheless, Tsitsipas was shy. He was bullied at college.
“It wasn’t straightforward for me to speak to folks,” he recollects.
“I assume I used to be an excellent observer and an excellent listener. I used to be curious in regards to the world. I used to be very curious to see what folks needed to say and was studying from them. I used to be very quiet round my household, all the time observing.”
That character trait was additionally noticed by Mouratoglou within the south of France. The famend French coach is maybe one thing of a kindred spirit. He too lived a childhood marked by shyness.
“Stefanos developed his personal interior world,” says Mouratoglou, who, together with Apostolos, nonetheless coaches Tsitsipas.
“Firstly, when he joined in 2015, he was very introverted. He used to remain inside his household surroundings, away from the others. When folks do not present their feelings, they create a really wealthy interior life.
“However he understood that I had sort of the identical experiences and we talked about it. I feel he is not that shy now. He is made lots of progress.”
Tsitsipas provides: “There isn’t any extra shyness. I am an individual who likes to seize moments of my life, have my ideas and my experiences shared on-line as a result of that is the way it works today.
“Tennis is a lonely sport so having hobbies and issues to do besides enjoying tennis is essential for somebody’s psychological well-being. My grandfather Sergei was additionally a producer, a screenwriter. He loved doing that, I assume it comes from my Russian facet and it is in my blood.”
Regardless of – or maybe due to – their shut bond, there are nonetheless moments of public rigidity within the Tsitsipas household.
On the ATP Cup in January 2020, Tsitsipas unintentionally damage his dad as he smashed a racket in conjunction with the court docket.
A month later at an occasion in Dubai, he mentioned he typically felt his dad and mom had been “method too concerned” in his profession. In response, his mom determined to attend one in every of his information conferences, posing him a sequence of questions in regards to the significance of household to success in tennis, placing the younger man in an ungainly scenario.
“When Stefanos was youthful, it was simpler,” Apostolos says. “My double position must be reconsidered with him rising older. I want to grasp that he is taking over extra duties and selections. I must hearken to him far more.
“He has labored exhausting for the previous two years. He is performed lots of matches, semi-finals, finals, powerful matches that introduced him extra expertise.
“He is taking some selections alone, selecting particulars he needs to concentrate on and the way in which he is organising his work and his crew. He is assuming his duties, he is aware of the place he needs to go and the way. It brings a greater vitality.”
Tsitsipas says: “It really works fairly effectively. Now we have good chemistry. We battle typically however on the finish of the day we do not separate, we’re all the time right here for one another. He’s an excellent individual, he has an excellent coronary heart.
“My household is my stability and I owe quite a bit to them.”
Simply how far can Tsitsipas go? He and his crew have excessive hopes for this month, for starters. In some methods it will be the right place for that first massive win, given Melbourne’s important Greek group.
Greece has maybe by no means been thought-about a significant tennis nation, however that mentality has modified with Tsitsipas climbing the rankings. Already he’s their greatest participant in historical past.
“Stefanos has the potential to win numerous Grand Slam tournaments,” says Mouratoglou, who himself has Greek roots.
Apostolos says: “I feel he is able to win a Grand Slam. Psychologically, additionally. He believes in his capacities and no-one know his limits.”
For Tsitsipas, his household and his nation, it is a chance to write down a major new chapter.
“I see this simply as the start,” says Tsitsipas.
“I am positive if I win the Grand Slam I’d make my grandfather very proud. If I work exhausting sufficient and have a bit little bit of luck, too, then, sure.
“It will be the most effective second of my profession, for positive.”