Indian Wells defeat for Stefanos Tsitsipas throws up more questions
Some players are destined to remain as sideshows to the game’s genuine champions and Stefanos Tsitsipas fills that role too often.
After his second round defeat at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells to gutsy Aussie Jordan Thompson, Tsitsipas looked a little bewildered as he trudged off the court.
In an event lacking the presence of Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, Tsitsipas should have been one of the leading contenders.
Yet the Greek third seed came up short again when opportunity knocked, as he has tended to do over the course of his career.
This 7-6 (0), 4-6, 7-6 (5) defeat against Thompson was a familiar tale for a player who has finished second too often in his young career and even at the youthful age of 24, it was an opportunity that passed him by.
A beaten finalist at the 2021 French Open and the 2023 Australian Open, Tsitsipas is developing an unwanted and possibly undeserved reputation for cracking when the pressure is applied.
After all, his two defeats in Grand Slam final came against the imperious Djokovic, who showed an ability to move into a gear that was too much for Tsitsipas during matches when he occasionally threatened.
While it would be extremely harsh to suggest this 2019 ATP Finals winner is anything other than a huge achiever in the game, questions will continue to be asked of Tsitsipas until he finally starts breaking through with wins in the tournaments that matter.
This latest defeat featured glorious flashes of brilliance from Tsitsipas, yet his final shot that squirmed just wide was another snapshot of his familiar story – close, but not close enough.
“It’s unreal. At a Masters 1000, in the Tennis Garden here,” Thompson said.
“It’s one of my favourite tournaments, I think a lot of players’ favourite tournaments to play. To have a win like that is incredible. I’m really happy.
“I wanted to take control of my service points. Obviously, I can’t do much about his, he’s a big guy and he’s got a great serve.
“I wasn’t finding too much rhythm there on return towards the end but snuck one out. I stayed aggressive on serve and very thankful that last ball went wide.”
Tsitsipas will doubtless brush off this defeat after suggesting prior to his first match that he was still recovering from a shoulder injury, but he showed enough in this defeat against Thompson to suggest he should have won this match.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t miss the next two tournaments, but I’m still recovering, and I won’t pretend that I have a chance to do well in these next two tournaments because that would be wrong,” he stated prior to his match against Thompson.
“I haven’t said it many times in my career, but I don’t think I’m able to go far. The priority is to prepare my body for clay.
“I need to take my time and have the right medical team by my side to help me make the best recovery and not have complications like this in the future.
“When faced with situations like this, the only thing you wish for yourself is to have a healthy career, where you can go on the court and give your best without any repercussions.
“We have seen it with some champions like Rafael Nadal, who have struggled with injuries for a long time but are still able to play at a very good level.
“It’s a very unfortunate injury at this time of year, because I started the season very well.”
Tsitsipas is likely to take his shoulder problem to the Miami Open later this month and even if he is beaten early on in that tournament, his status as a top five player in the ATP rankings is secure for now.
Yet with young guns like Holger Rune and Felix Auger-Aliassime pressing to make a big mark at the top end of the game in 2023, Tsitsipas needs to be guard against the next generation takes his place as the game’s most likely breakthrough act.
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