Tsitsipas can go all the way: Philippoussis

  • Suzi Petkovski

Former Australian No.1 Mark Philippoussis is as excited as anyone in the flag-waving army here supporting ‘Greek freak’ Stefanos Tsitsipas’ in his charge to the semifinals at Melbourne Park.

“I think everyone should be very excited to watch him,” says Melbourne native Philippoussis of the No.14 seed, already Greece’s best male player at age 20.

Never mind that Tsitsipas faces Rafael Nadal in Thursday night’s semifinal – Philippoussis is bullish about his chances of going all the way to the title.

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Tsitsipas is riding the wave of Melbourne Park support

“Why not? He beat Roger Federer,” said the 42-year-old, runner-up to the Swiss at Wimbledon 2003, the first of Federer’s 20 majors. “He’s got a great head on his shoulders, he gives it 110 per cent on the court all the time. He serves well and obviously he’s building in confidence. It’s not going to get any easier but there’s no reason why.”

Tsitsipas wasn’t even born when a 19-year-old Philippoussis announced himself at Melbourne Park with a stadium-shaking upset similar to the young Greek’s 6-7(11) 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(5) epic over the defending champion on Sunday night.

The two biggest Greek names in the game (though neither played for Greece) met indoors in the 1996 third round on a rainy Saturday night, with hometown boy Philippoussis stunning world No.1 Pete Sampras in straight sets.

Philippoussis went onto two Grand Slam finals, two Davis Cup titles and a peak ranking of No.8. While not pensioning off Federer, he agreed with John McEnroe’s changing-of-the-guard call on the fourth round boil over.

“Federer’s what, 37? Tsitsipas is 20, so obviously that is a new generation. Sooner or later guys have to be stepping up and he’s definitely one of those stepping up.”

Just keep going how you’ve been going. Don’t overthink. Don’t stress
Philippoussis' advice for Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas has never met Sampras, the Greek-American 14-time major winner and former all-time leader (until overtaken by Federer and Nadal). But he’s friendly with Greek-Australians Thanasi Kokkinakis and Philippoussis, recalling that the Scud approached him and his father Apostolos at the 2017 US Open with words of support and advice.

“Look, he’s a very nice guy. Family is beautiful, he’s a beautiful kid,” Philippoussis related of their initial meeting. “I’ve got time for nice people. It’s great to speak to him in Greek and just to check in with how he’s doing.

“It’s very easy for someone when they’re a young player to kind of get ahead of themselves, to worry about rankings or certain things.

“I just said: ‘Don’t rush. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you. It’s a marathon; you’re going to be playing for a lot of years. Just keep going how you’ve been going. Don’t overthink. Don’t stress.”

Philippoussis approves that Tsitsipas understands “it’s a good thing if people want you to do well” and rides the energy of the crowd.

“The crowd can get you over the finish line,” said the 1999 and 2003 Davis Cup-winning hero, the last here at Melbourne Park. “A lot of situations, when you might get down and out, or tired, or get to a tiebreak, the crowd could make a huge difference.”