When defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas was asked before his Nitto ATP Finals rematch against Rafael Nadal about the strategy he would employ against the Spanish great, he had a very clear game plan: “You can’t play defensive with Rafa.”
The Greek player stuck to his strategy, but for the second year in a row he went down swinging against Nadal at The O2, falling in another three-set battle, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. He was eliminated from the season-ending event after finishing with a 1-2 record in Group London 2020.
“I don’t even know what I was trying to do, honestly,” Tsitsipas said. “Trying to be way, way too aggressive. I was giving him free points without really, you know, himself doing much or hurting me from the back.
“I should have handled it a little bit more clever and patiently, but it didn’t happen. My serve was not there when I needed it, and these guys, you just have to be there. I wasn’t fully present. I wasn’t playing in the moment. Quite disappointed with that. But that’s life.”
It was a disappointing end to a strange season for the Greek player, who started the year lifting his fifth ATP Tour trophy in Marseille and backed it up with a run to the final in Dubai. But just as he had seemed to find his best tennis, then came the Tour’s six-month pause as the world was gripped by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the season resumed, Tsitsipas reached his second career Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros, and came to London eager to defend his Nitto ATP Finals crown. But he admitted that the mental aspect of the empty stands, bubbles and strict health protocols had taken a toll.
“I’m not a person who sees the dark side of things. But this whole thing was very difficult to handle, to be honest with you,” Tsitsipas reflected. “I’m very happy that I didn’t break down, and I’m sure if you ask other players they are going to respond the same way.”
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With his season in the books, Tsitsipas is already looking forward to the off-season and new year ahead – and maybe, a season where he won’t have to run into Nadal at The O2, as the Nitto ATP Finals moves to its new home in Turin in 2021.
“There were a few positives I can take from that,” Tsitsipas said. “I will try and forget the negatives, because who needs negativity in this world? Just looking at the bright side of it. Trying to get to the end of the tunnel and see something better in the near future.”