He views himself a “life teacher” to the No. 6 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, and the knowledge that Apostolos provided to his son is clearly working. Last season, Stefanos shot into the Top 10 just three years after turning pro and clinched the biggest title of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Apostolos spoke with ATPTour.com ahead of the US Open and opened up about balancing his roles as father and coach, in addition to what it will take for Stefanos to continue climbing the rankings.
Apostolos Tsitsipas: The Accidental Tennis Coach
How do you think that Stefanos has rebounded after five months away from the ATP Tour?
I think the result here [at the Western & Southern Open] shows that he was ready. He was hungry to start again. He responded well. He’s full of concentration and it’s really nice to see that. So far, we’re really happy with his performance.
It’s a different dynamic being in this bubble. How is he handling the new setup and things like not having fans or not being able to go out to dinner?
It’s been positive for us so far. He’s a person who likes social media and his vlogs. Now he doesn’t have much chance to vlog around different places, so maybe he’s more focussed on his job and his game. It’s a good thing that Stefanos found the power and energy inside this environment to perform like that.
We can see this hunger in him now. Do you have any examples of that hunger from him in junior events or as a little kid?
When he was 10 years old, we were at a tournament and his racquets were either lost or stolen. He didn’t have racquets to play the tournament and was very upset. I said that I would buy him racquets and he told me, “Please, only buy me one, and I’ll play the 10-and-under and 12-and-under events.” You want to play both events? He said, “Yes, because if you win the tournament, they give you racquets as a present.”
He was the youngest one out there and won both categories. Every match was 7-6 in the third set and he was so tired when he won. It was emotional for me to see that. You need to have that energy and love this responsibility when you compete.
They ended up giving him other presents instead, but it’s okay! I bought him six racquets.
You’re not just a coach, but also his father. How do you balance that?
I like to be his life teacher more. He learned a lot of things about tennis and he’s asking for knowledge lately. He wants to improve every time he goes on the court. As a teacher, I have a big responsibility to keep him on the right track. And it’s part of every father’s job to keep their child healthy.
What has been Stefanos’ biggest achievement in your eyes?
He didn’t change from the person I know. He’s humble, loves his community and the people around him. He finds all this energy and strength to develop himself, while also being sensitive and taking care of the people around him. It’s not an easy combination and I’m really impressed.
He’s so into his creativity. You’ve said it’s good for him to be focussed on tennis, but do you think that constant learning elsewhere is also beneficial?
For sure. It’s very beneficial for him and his development as a human. I think he’s found his freedom and creativity is part of that. I’m always happy when I see people who are free in their mind because I believe they’re on the right path.
Was there anything you worked on specifically in his game during this time away?
Every player has a lot of things to improve. This is the beauty of tennis. He decided to work more on his serve and also on making the points shorter. That’s part of a player understanding his game.
What is the thing that separates him from being World No. 1?
Five ranking spots! There are still some things he has to do, but not many. The main thing for me is that he trusts himself, his ability and his game. If he does that fully, then I can hope for the best.