Tennis owns many “comeback origin stories,” instances in which a comeback in the early or middle stages of a tournament gave rise to a much more significant achievement or transformation later in a career.
If Jimmy Connors hadn’t come back against Patrick McEnroe in the first round of the 1991 U.S. Open, we wouldn’t have had the magical run to the semifinals which became one of the most-told stories in tennis for decades.
If Roger Federer had not come back from two sets and break point down against Tommy Haas in the fourth round of Roland Garros in 2009, he wouldn’t have won all four major tournaments.
If Novak Djokovic had not come back from 2 sets to 1 and a break down to Viktor Troicki in the first round of the 2010 U.S. Open, he would not have made the final; beaten Roger Federer; played Rafael Nadal; or done any of the other things which led to a triumphant Davis Cup with Serbia and launched his 2011 ascendancy, which led to his dominant decade and his convincing pursuit of GOAT status in men’s tennis.
Those are just a few examples of comeback origin stories, when an escape early in a tournament leads to something much bigger down the road.
This week in Monte Carlo, Stefanos Tsitsipas turned a pre-weekend comeback into a championship. He wouldn’t have been able to beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Easter Sunday if he hadn’t come back from the dead against Diego Schwartzman on Good Friday.
Tsitsipas was clearly the better player than ADF in Sunday’s final, his clay stylings and weight of shot too much for his Spanish opponent. Yet, he wouldn’t have stood in that prized position on Sunday if he hadn’t come back from a 0-4, 30-40 deficit on Friday.
That Houdini act led to a 1,000-point title. To an extent, Tsitsipas has already cashed in that comeback. Yet, he didn’t play Djokovic, Nadal, Dominic Thiem, or Carlos Alcaraz in Monte Carlo. He took advantage of one week’s opportunities, but this doesn’t change the calculus for Roland Garros, especially when you consider how mediocre Djokovic and other non-Nadal players have been in Monte Carlo over the years.
The real question for Tsitsipas is if that comeback over Schwartzman unlocks the level of belief the Greek had one year ago, before his run to the Roland Garros final. Tsitsipas competed better then. He didn’t shrink as much under pressure. He didn’t flinch as often. He was a stronger, more robust player, a tougher out on the tour. Stef needs to regain that bulldog presence on court.
He needs to become the man who gained a two-set lead on Djokovic and was one set from winning a major title.
Tsitsipas’s comeback origin story has already delivered him a clay Masters title, which is no small thing. Now we find out if this comeback story on Easter can lead to something much more…
Not as eternal as Jesus Christ, but close enough.