After capturing his fifth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title, Novak Djokovic took a moment to applaud two-time runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas and share his belief that the Greek has the potential to reach the top of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion, who is 18-0 this year, praised Tsitsipas for his desire to improve and believes the 21-year-old is also capable of lifting multiple Grand Slam titles.
“I love the fact that he is more than just tennis player and he’s always looking to learn from the experience and to understand something new about himself so he can improve, get better,” said Djokovic.
“That for me is a trait of a champion, of someone that for sure has a great potential to be No. 1 of the world and win Grand Slams and be a great ambassador of our sport. He already is, but he has a great future ahead of him, I’m sure.”
Djokovic remembers what it is like to achieve success at Tsitsipas’ age on the ATP Tour. The Serbian claimed his first ATP Tour trophy when he was 19 and, like Tsitsipas, clinched his first Nitto ATP Finals trophy at 21 years of age.
Tsitsipas has developed his game under an intense spotlight. In 2018, the Greek rose from No. 91 to No. 15 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and finished his breakout year as the second winner of the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Last year, Tsitsipas advanced to his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. But the Athens-born star also learned how to deal with defeats, enduring a four-match losing streak in North America. The Greek returned to form in Asia, before finishing the season with his biggest title at the The O2 in London.
“You go through the process of self-realisation and learning, maturing, then understanding what’s good for you in life, in your career. He’s a mature man already,” said Djokovic.
“He’s young from the perspective of professional sport, but he’s been around. He’s very smart, very wise.”
Tsitsipas is not alone as he continues to develop his game on the ATP Tour. He is often joined by father and coach Apostolos Tsitsipas and his mother, Julia Salnikova. Salnikova even took part in Tsitsipas’ semi-final press conference, asking her son if he was aware of how many tennis greats were actively supported by their parents.
“Parents, family members, the closest people in your life that have been there since day one are your greatest support,” said Djokovic. “Of course, they want the best for you.
“I know both of his parents. They’re nice people. They really care about him being the best tennis player he can be and also the best person he can be. I think they’re doing a very good job.”
For the second straight year, Tsitsipas entered the Dubai championship match on a run of eight straight wins. The Greek rushed to Dubai after lifting his second straight title in Marseille last Sunday, but battled through to his 11th ATP Tour final (5-6) with wins against Pablo Carreno Busta, Alexander Bublik, Jan-Lennard Struff and Daniel Evans.
Having also fallen in the Dubai final last year to Roger Federer, Tsitsipas struggled to hide his disappointment after falling short at the ATP 500 event for the second straight year.
“It’s disappointing trying so hard and not really getting the final result that you want,” said Tsitsipas. “For sure, I would love to see myself holding that trophy. Of course, he gave more than me and he deserves it.”
But Tsitsipas didn’t dwell on his disappointment for long, praising Djokovic for his 21-match unbeaten run. Djokovic has achieved 21 consecutive victories or better on seven occasions in his career.
Tsitsipas’s personal streak may have ended at eight wins, but he has the belief that one day he will be the one to make headlines for extended winning runs on the ATP Tour.
“I am not surprised he has done it. I want to do it one day too… I’ve been playing some good tennis,” said Tsitsipas. “Obviously I’ve never had the record that Djokovic has. But I do think it’s possible. Of course, lots of respect to him for doing it so many times.”