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The long and short of Tsitsipas

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

After his loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime on Friday at Queen’s Club, Stefanos Tsitsipas becomes an even more fascinating figure in the larger theater of men’s tennis.

“Wait,” you might say. “Isn’t that a bit of embellishment, Matt? Are you really trying to make a big deal out of an ATP 500 quarterfinal? Surely this is overdone, oui?”

Fair question.

I will explain.

It would have been even more notable — and alarming — if Tsitsipas had lost to Auger-Aliassime primarily because of his own insufficient play, but as I wrote in this companion piece on Friday’s match, the outcome was decided by Felix’s excellence, not Stef’s inadequacies.

Let it also be noted that Tsitsipas — say what you want about how “tactical” it was — nevertheless felt the need to have his right shoulder tended to.

He did have a taxing Roland Garros tournament in which he played a lot of tennis. Losing here does give him time to rest for Wimbledon. It is not a bad loss by any measurement. This is not a result which is significant in any immediate short-term context.

Therefore, when I titled this piece “The long and short of Tsitsipas,” the short term is not the problem. The short-term interests of Tsitsipas (namely, at Wimbledon) were well served by this loss.

The long term, however? This is where things get interesting.

Just consider some commentary from outsiders after this match:

And commentary from Tsitsipas himself:

First off, I LOVE the fact that Tsitsipas plainly admitted Felix is better. This is not the same thing as a player having no belief when taking the court against a Big 3 opponent. This is a matchup of peers in which Tsitsipas is eager to perform but runs up against a better player who currently knows how to ride the wave and sustain the upper hand. This is a puzzle for Tsitsipas to solve.

This matchup is simultaneously like the Daniil Medvedev head-to-head for Tsitsipas, and yet completely different.

The obvious shared characteristic is the winless H2H and the head space differential plaguing Tsitsipas in these two encounters. The obvious — and huge — difference is that the Medvedev matchup is clouded by past antagonisms. Stef is unsettled and bothered by Medvedev the PERSON. There is no animosity with Felix. THAT matchup is strictly about the tennis. Medvedev gets under Tsitsipas’ skin, so while Stefanos is winless against both players, the reasons for those struggles are different.

Why is Stefanos Tsitsipas a more dramatic and compelling figure after this loss? It’s not because this match meant so much — it didn’t. Tsitsipas is a dramatic and even more compelling figure because he has simultaneously climbed to such a high place in a relatively short time… and yet has been utterly thwarted by two particular opponents who haven’t done jack squat at major tournaments and have done relatively little at Masters 1000s (less than Tsitsipas, to be sure).

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Tsitsipas MUST solve these two puzzles as soon as possible. However, it has to be asked: If Tsitsipas doesn’t break through against Medvedev and FAA in the next 3-4 matches he plays against both men, will this mental block have a carryover effect and spill into other aspects of his tennis?

I don’t have a strong answer or opinion on this question. The question itself is the commentary… and also the drama of Tsitsipas’s fascinating career.

The short term carries zero worries. The long run of Tsitsipas’s tennis journey is so fascinating to contemplate right now.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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