Stefanos Tsitsipas won Monte Carlo and made the Rome final, but he defeated players he was supposed to defeat, all in a best-of-three-set format.
He didn’t play Carlos Alcaraz. He didn’t beat Novak Djokovic. He didn’t play Rafael Nadal. His best win in the clay season was against Alexander Zverev, whom Alcaraz crushed in the Madrid final.
The results, on paper, were not bad, but there was never a match in which Tsitsipas looked like a frontline Roland Garros title contender. He never inspired confidence, from a betting perspective or simply from the vantage point of a studied observer, that he was ready to contend for this title once again in 2022.
Why? You saw why in his loss to Holger Rune on Monday in Paris.
Tsitsipas passively shoveled the ball for much of the match, instead of hitting the ball with gusto and using clay to enhance his weapons, which are magnified by the surface. Rune, an utterly fearless player, dictated how most of the match was played. Tsitsipas battled at times, including in the final tense game of the match. Rune had to do something special to finish the job, but Tsitsipas drifted for long portions of the match to give Rune the upper hand. By the time he finally put on his battle armor, it wasn’t necessarily too late, but it was late enough that Stef’s margin for error had evaporated.
His lack of conviction, of enjoyment in the arena of combat, was obvious. This was not the happy warrior who relished the pursuit of Djokovic and Nadal the previous few years at Roland Garros, and who almost beat Djokovic in two different memorable five-setters. That iteration of Tsitsipas would never have passively accepted a thumping from Rune. That version of Stef was a true major title contender who would have slashed his way through a very weak and wide-open bottom half of the draw, with Nole, Rafa, and Alcaraz all in the other half.
Stefanos Tsitsipas needs to rediscover his love of tennis. The past 12 months have given us a burdened player weighed down by expectations and taking no pleasure in being the hunted, the man expected to make the Roland Garros final and play for big prizes. If Stefanos enjoyed being the hunter, he now needs to find a way to be happy as the target for most of the tour. Ever since he elevated his status by making the 2021 Roland Garros final, the quality and vibrance of his tennis have waned.
Stef needs to go on a vacation, have a cold drink of some kind, and remember that tennis is always supposed to be fun. Come back to the tour refreshed. Pound the daylights out of the ball. Pursue excellence anew.
Not this dreary fare we’ve seen the past 12 months. Life is too short for joyless competition.