The 2019 season will always be one to remember for Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, and not just because of his success on the court.
Tsitsipas met his idol, former World No. 1 Pete Sampras, for the first time at Indian Wells. The Greek and his family got to briefly chat with Sampras, an American of Greek origin with whom he happens to share a birthday.
“That (dreaming) face you make when you meet the first guy that you’ve ever watched play tennis on TV. The person that made you want to go out at the tennis courts in the beach, made you dream about playing on all of the big stages and arenas around the world, winning trophies and titles, becoming an inspiration for others,” Tsitsipas wrote on Instagram. “Despite being at the end of his career, my childhood was filled with @petesamprasofficial matches and battles that I will never forget. This person has given me courage and eagerness to pursue my dream. A dream that felt insanely difficult to reach.
“It’s an honour to be standing next to you Pete. Thank you for filling my childhood with enthusiasm, hope, hard work ethic and… for me to play tennis in the first place. You are an inspiration up to this day, and I hope and inspiration for many generations to come.”
Sampras may have played under the United States flag, but he inspired Greek children like Tsitsipas. Stefanos’ brother, Petros Tsitsipas — who will help Stefanos lead Team Greece in the inaugural ATP Cup next month — is named after Sampras, according to an Instagram post.
With Tsitsipas’ increasing success — he just lifted the biggest title of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals — there will be plenty of people inspired to try to follow in his footsteps. That doesn’t add pressure for the Greek, though. It makes him even more excited for his journey to come.
“I’m super hungry to win matches and get up in the ATP Rankings, to be the best in my country. Pressure about leading Greece? Never,” Tsitsipas wrote in a first-person essay for ATPTour.com. “It’s very motivating to be the one who can create history in Greece and have kids look up to me later. They, like my parents did after my early losses, can be the ones chasing after me and shouting my name. I can inspire them and be the leader of tennis in Greece.”
Top 10 Greek Players In History By ATP Ranking
| Stefanos Tsitsipas
|| No. 5
| Nicholas Kalogeropoulos
|| No. 108
| Konstantinos Economidis
|| No. 112
| Vasilis Mazarakis
|| No. 115
| Solon Peppas
|| No. 149
| George Kalovelonis
|| No. 208
| Nicolas Kelaidis
|| No. 244
| Theodoros Angelinos
|| No. 251
| Taso Vasiliadis
|| No. 365
| Arthur Anastopoulo
|| No. 376
One player who Tsitsipas has motivated is Greek No. 2 Michail Pervolarakis, who will be the country’s second singles player when Greece faces Russia, the United States and Norway in Brisbane in Group D action.
“He’s a really nice guy, so overall it’s just an amazing experience being with him. We talk sometimes. I actually just had a baby, I send him pictures of my baby sometimes,” Pervolarakis told ATPTour.com. “[He has] a very big impact [in Greece]. Everyone now is watching tennis in the most random places. Instead of soccer or basketball they’re watching tennis and the [Nitto] ATP Finals or Grand Slams. I think those kids want to play and connect with Stefanos. They want to start and see what the sport is all about. It’s just becoming bigger in general as a sport.”
Pervolarakis began this season unranked, but he has climbed as high as No. 433 in the ATP Rankings. Part of Pervolarakis’ success this year has come from motivation after watching his countryman compete — and in many instances, beat — the best players in the world.
“It’s really motivating to see what he’s able to achieve. He broke into the Top 100 and that was amazing and now he’s No. 6 in the world,” Pervolarakis said. “I don’t think he has limits. It’s really motivating to me to see that somebody from my country is able to play at such a high level.”
The 23-year-old will now get to compete alongside his countryman. After meeting Tsitsipas earlier this year, he won’t just get to watch the Greek on television, but cheer him on from just feet away and potentially even play doubles with him. Pervolarakis follows Tsitsipas from afar, watching his matches as much as he can.
And now because of Tsitsipas’ success, Pervolakis has a big opportunity to compete on what promises to be one of the sport’s biggest stages, with an entire country behind him.
“Obviously it’s the biggest tournament I’ve ever played and probably will play next year. So being in a tournament with the top guys in the world, the top tennis players, playing as a teammate as Stefanos, that will be an amazing experience for me,” Pervolarakis said. “Also, it’s a new event, and I think it’s really cool. Obviously you represent your country in every event, but in this one specifically you’re a team and you have opponents from different countries. I think people are really going to enjoy this tournament.”
Tsitsipas has already competed under the spotlight against the world’s best. But the Greek knows the inaugural ATP Cup provides a special chance for him to not just play against the best players in the world, but to do it for his country.
“We all have something extra inside of ourselves,” Tsitsipas said. “We’re playing for the country, which makes it very important for us.”