Anyone who covers tennis will tell you: “Don’t overreact to one match.”
That said, some matches stand out from others in a tennis season. Players face urgent situations when they lose important matches they expected to win. If they don’t learn from those kinds of moments, they won’t attain or maintain elite status.
It’s reasonable to say that Stefanos Tsitsipas is in danger of losing elite status on the ATP Tour. He hasn’t lost it yet, but it’s easier to think it could happen…
IF he doesn’t adjust.
Tsitsipas needs to add dimensions to his game. He needs more coping strategies and countermoves. No one should find those statements the least bit controversial after his loss to Carlos Alcaraz in Miami.
Yes, Alcaraz looks like the real deal. The Spaniard demonstrated how quickly he has learned to play at a higher level. He displayed a complete game and a dizzying array of ways in which to win a point, a defining mark of great players. This match was won by Alcaraz more than it was squandered by Tsitsipas. Yet, it nevertheless says something about Tsitsipas that he lost a 5-2 first-set lead and could not defend his own serve when Alcaraz began to surge. Great players either cool down a hot opponent or manage to weather the storm. Tsitsipas did neither.
Tsitsipas has to confront a grim and concerning reality: Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner are making steady improvements, while the Greek is treading water and is fundamentally stagnant. If this is how the rest of the 2022 season unfolds, Tsitsipas not only won’t make another major final; he will not make major semifinals. If Alcaraz and Sinner keep growing and evolving, Tsitsipas will enter 2023 in worse position to win a major compared to this year. When the Big 3 eventually hang up their racquets later this decade, Tsitsipas could find himself behind Alcaraz and Sinner as a foremost contender for majors. We haven’t even mentioned what could happen when Dominic Thiem regains fitness and form, or when Daniil Medvedev gets better on clay, or when other younger players improve.
The squeeze on Tsitsipas is growing in intensity. The pressure on his back heading into clay season is easily greater than the pressure faced by any other top ATP player, with the possible sole exception of Alexander Zverev. Tsitsipas probably is shouldering more pressure heading into clay season because Zverev is more likely to compete for hardcourt major titles. Tsitsipas is falling behind on that surface, making clay more central to any attempt to maintain his elite status.
No one is saying Tsitsipas is doomed. Everyone can agree that Tsitsipas needs to make real improvements and additions to his game. If he can’t find new ideas or the ability to execute them, the younger generation will step in front of Stef and take the baton from Rafa and Novak.