The reality of Stefanos Tsitsipas’s tennis existence is complicated after Shanghai.
On one hand, Tsitsipas very clearly grew in stature by defeating defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Tsitsipas beat Djokovic after losing the first set, which doesn’t happen very often. He watched Djokovic play an excellent first set, and then he calmly regrouped to win in three.
Tsitsipas clearly showed the resolve and resourcefulness of the player we witnessed in the first half of the 2019 season, when he did so much good work and put up a good fight against Djokovic in the Madrid final before losing.
There is a lot of good news for Tsitsipas to take with him to Europe as the 2019 season winds toward its concluding stretch.
Yet, even while Tsitsipas carries with him that important and affirming victory over Djokovic, he has obviously been surpassed by another non-Big 3 player.
To be sure, Daniil Medvedev had already passed Tsitsipas in global stature and overall prowess with his ridiculous summer run of consecutive finals in Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati, and New York, with a first Masters championship in Cincy and a first major final at the U.S. Open.
Yet, what Shanghai reinforced — and nailed down, at least in the present moment — is that Medvedev is the empirically better player.
When Medvedev and Tsitsipas met on previous occasions, they met at points in time when Tsitsipas was the more accomplished player.
After Tsitsipas’s run to the Toronto final in 2018, Medvedev nevertheless took out Stef at the U.S. Open, then a few months later in Basel. Club Med even beat Tsitsipas on clay in Monte Carlo earlier this year. The Greek is the obviously superior clay player, but it didn’t matter.
The line of thought at the time — which I agreed with — was that Tsitsipas had a mental block against Medvedev, much as he did against Felix Auger-Aliassime. (Beating Felix was a huge step forward for Tsitsipas in Shanghai. That also has to be noted. I wrote about it, too.)
Then, however, Medvedev made his rapid climb up the ladder in the summer.
When they met in Shanghai, Medvedev was the favorite not primarily because he had previously owned Tsitsipas — that was a part of the story, but not the biggest part. The main reason Club Med was favored over Stef is that he was the better player.
He proved it once again in China.
Tsitsipas genuinely grew and evolved in Shanghai. He and his fans should be very pleased with his performance and his result. This was a noticeable forward step after a lot of struggles in the summer.
Yet, Tsitsipas is nevertheless second in line behind Medvedev as a challenger to the Big 3, and one could make the argument that Alexander Zverev is ready to challenge Medvedev for that distinction at the ATP Finals, since the German massively boosted his chances of being able to defend his title.
You can debate this point. Have fun.
The bigger picture is that Tsitsipas improved in Shanghai, only for another player — Medvedev — to raise the bar to an even greater degree.
Tsitsipas has to be patient with his progress. He can try to forge the stratospheric rise of Medvedev, but no young player should EXPECT to do what Medvedev is doing, at least not to the extent that a failure to replicate such tremendous results might lead to a depression which hijacks personal performance in the near future.
Tsitsipas can spend five minutes lamenting Medvedev’s dramatic improvements. Then he needs to keep his focus away from Daniil and remain cognizant of his own development and how he can more steadily move upward on tour, without the three-month detour which interrupted his progress in the summer of 2019.
As long as Tsitsipas focuses on what he can control and doesn’t take losses too harshly, his 2020 season should be highly productive. His post-Shanghai outlook might be complicated, but it is ultimately positive, and he is the first person who needs to remember that.
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