The 2021 Roland Garros men’s singles final will always be remembered as Novak Djokovic’s 19th major triumph. For Stefanos Tsitsipas it was agonisingly close to becoming his first.
As he has so often done throughout his career, Djokovic clawed his way off the canvas and roared past his then 22-year-old Greek opponent, starving Tsitsipas of the moment every player dreams of.
Tsitsipas was enjoying the most fruitful period of his career. He’d claimed his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, held match points against Nadal in Barcelona and scooped another trophy in Lyon.
It would’ve surprised few if he went all the way in Paris.
If Tsitsipas clinched the opportunity which presented itself on Court Phillipe Chatrier that day, he would’ve stood alongside the very few who have been able to defeat a member of the ‘big three’ in a Grand Slam Final.
It’s a club consisting of just Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Murray and Daniil Medvedev.
Fast-forward nearly two years and although Tsitsipas is still at the pointy end of the ATP rankings and his name is well and truly in the conversation when it comes to the Slams, the task of breaking through the magical major barrier hasn’t got any easier. In fact, it’s got a whole lot more difficult.
Last week he succumbed to journeyman Australian, Jordan Thompson in the 2nd Round of Indian Wells, his second loss in three matches since his run to the Final of the Australian Open.
There’s a new wave of talent that has swept over the sport, in a way that may not have been seen for two decades.
13 of the world’s top 21 players are 25 or younger.
Carlos Alcaraz has already notched up a major title with victory at the 2022 US Open, reached World No. 1 and is seemingly poised to be a force for years to come.
Jannik Sinner is starting to put it all together and despite Tsitsipas holding a 5-2 record over the Italian, recent results suggest the tide is turning. After being ousted in a five-set thriller at Melbourne Park in January, Sinner romped past Tsitsipas in straight sets at Rotterdam just weeks later.
Throw in the likes of Holger Rune, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime plus a host of others and it makes for a fascinating future.
Tsitsipas is only 24 himself, so the shot clock isn’t about to buzz just yet, but it’s worth considering how quickly the landscape can change.
At the age of 22, Lleyton Hewitt had finished 2002 as the World No. 1 and with two Slams under his belt. Despite a hugely successful career that saw him reach two more major singles finals, his greatest achievements on the court were in the rear vision mirror.
The following year saw Andy Roddick capture the US Open and end the season as the sport’s top ranked male player, the youngest American to do so in history. Roddick played in four more Slam finals before his career was over but ran into Swiss legend, Roger Federer on each occasion.
Another player who along with Tsitsipas has been considered a Slam champion in-waiting is Alexander Zverev. In 2020 at Flushing Meadows, he came awfully close to climbing the mountain, falling to Dominic Thiem in a fifth set tie-breaker. Since then, form and injury have seen him slip to No. 14 in the rankings.
It’s not panic stations yet for Tsitsipas in his quest to achieve Grand Slam glory but as he prepares to shake the dust off his clay-court sneakers ahead of another season on the red dirt, he looms as an intriguing watch as to whether he can hold aloft one of the sport’s most coveted trophies.