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Tsitsipas Finds His Footing Without Fanfare in France

Matt Zemek

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Pierre Lahalle of Presse Sports for USA TODAY Sports

Stefanos Tsitsipas lost early-round matches in previous tournaments this February, which gave him fresher legs for the latest ATP Tour stop in Marseille. This economy of match play helped Tsitsipas to win the Marseille tournament on Sunday over Mikhail Kukushkin.

However: Merely having fresher legs hardly guarantees success. It might make success more likely, but executing a plan and performing in important situations must also come to the forefront. Tsitsipas delivered these qualities to his week in France, and now he has a second career title to add to his first one, which he claimed last autumn in Stockholm.

This Marseille championship, like Stockholm, is an ATP 250 tournament. Tsitsipas has already shown that he can compete at the highest levels, having reached a major semifinal at the Australian Open and reaching last summer’s Rogers Cup (Masters 1000) final in Toronto. Rafael Nadal gave him a tennis lesson on both occasions. Mikhail Kukushkin is a fine player who had a great week in France, but he’s no Rafa. The caliber of the field at a 250 certainly helped Tsitsipas. This is not an extraordinary accomplishment. The tennis world should not bow in awe or adoration. No hyperbole, please.

Yet, one can quietly and plainly acknowledge the following:

Tsitsipas handled David Goffin in Saturday’s semifinals, and did so after Goffin served for the first set. Tsitsipas gave a victory speech in a post-tournament ceremony. Getting used to that winning feeling — even at the 250 level — is a part of learning how to be a champion. Visualizing and experiencing a triumphant moment, even if on a small scale at a modest tournament which didn’t have a single top-10 player, is an undeniably positive step.

No, let’s not make this championship anything more than what it actually is. Yet, Tsitsipas could have floundered at this tournament. Instead, he flourished. It’s not bad for a 20-year-old.

Let’s just make sure these 250s and these multi-tournament February schedules don’t become a regular part of his long-term scheduling plan.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is learning how to be a better tennis player. Losing is a great teacher, as Nadal showed in Australia. You could see how much Tsitsipas knew he still had to learn.

Yet, winning is a teacher as well. Tsitsipas is getting a complete tennis education these days.

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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