MELBOURNE – It’s about 15,000 kilometres (9,000 miles) from Melbourne to Greece, but home comforts are fuelling Stefanos Tsitsipas’s charge towards a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
The 24-year-old world number four from Greece has enjoyed fervent support in Melbourne, which has the largest Greek population in Australia.
Spectators bellowing for Tsitsipas and waving the Greek flag buoyed the third seed when he suffered a scare against young Italian Jannik Sinner on Sunday in their last-16 encounter.
Tsitsipas eventually prevailed over five sets at Rod Laver Arena to set up a quarter-final against unseeded 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
Tsitsipas is revelling in the support as he bids to win a major for the first time, but it goes deeper than that.
“I grew up in a climate that is very similar here, from the place I come from in southwestern Athens,” Tsitsipas, one of the deeper-thinking men’s tennis players, said.
“It always reminds me of home a little bit when I’m here – the conditions are similar, it’s not very humid, it’s not very tropical. I can say it’s similar to the Athenian Riviera.
“Another reason, another plus, is wherever I look I see Greek faces, I see Greek people speaking Greek.
“Of course it’s very important when you’re far away from home to have that sort of feeling, to connect even more with the culture that you’re at.
“It feels very welcoming when you’re able to walk around and feel that.”
Tsitsipas has seen the draw open up for him, with seven of the top 10 seeds – including defending champion Rafael Nadal – out of the tournament.
It has left him as the highest remaining seed and one of the favourites, although nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will have something to say about that.
My home Slam
Tsitsipas’s best performance at a major was losing the 2021 French Open final to Djokovic over five sets, having won the opening two sets.
He has been consistently competitive at the Australian Open, reaching the semi-finals in three of the past four years.
In return for the support he has received, Tsitsipas has endeared himself to Australians by peppering his interviews with snippets of the local lingo.
Following his thrilling victory over Sinner, Tsitsipas said: “What a great night. That was superb, ‘a ripper’ as they say here.” Cue cheers and laughter.
He also talked about being inspired by Rod Laver, the Australian tennis great who has the main court named after him and was in the crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
“I would consider it my home Slam,” he said.
“The French people have Roland Garros, the Brits have Wimbledon, the Americans have (the) US Open.
“For me, it’s the Australian Open.” – AFP