Greek dynamic duo heats up Hopman Cup

Already, the season-opening Hopman Cup could count on the return of both Team Switzerland and Team Germany.

And in a timely bit of news, the exhibition event held in Perth, Australia the first week of January (it officially begins Dec. 29, 2018) confirmed a new – and very hot – team.

Rogers Cup finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas will team up with countrywoman Maria Sakkari for the first time Down Under.

Tsitsipas was all over the tennis news last week as he defeated four consecutive top-10 players in Toronto, before losing in the final to No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

His ranking leaped up to No. 15.

Sakkari, a few years older than Tsitsipas as 23, stands at a career-best No. 31 in the rankings this week.

The appealing duo should prove to be a huge crowd favorite in Perth.

Also announced Wednesday is the return of Team Spain, with Garbiñe Muguruza and a fellow we weren’t sure we’d be seeing in 2019 – David Ferrer.

Greek

(They didn’t make him any younger with the work on that promotional banner).

They join two teams already confirmed back in June.

Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic will return, as will Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber of Germany, this year’s runners-up.

Third straight top-10 win for Tsitsipas

For the second consecutive year at the Rogers Cup, a teenager with a one-handed backhand is the surprise of the tournament.

Last year in Montreal, it was 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who upset Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal on his way to a shocker of a run to the semis.

This year in Toronto, it is Stefanos Tsitsipas’s turn to shine.

The 19-year-old from Greece (he turns 20 on Sunday, the day of the Rogers Cup final) has now upset three consecutive top-10 players in his own run to the semis.

Tsitsipas is youngest to defeat three top-10 players in a single tournament since Rafael Nadal at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2006. 

First came No. 8 Dominic Thiem, who didn’t look either fresh nor ready for the hard courts. On Thursday, Tsitsipas upset No. 10 Novak Djokovic in their first career meeting.

And on Friday, he pulled victory out of the jaws of near-certain defeat in upsetting 21-year-old Alexander Zverev, the world No. 3 who routined Tsitsipas in straight sets last week on his way to the title at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Zverev seemed ready to do it again. He led 6-3, 5-2, and served for the match at 5-3 in that second set.

And then, it all unraveled. The end result was a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4 win for the younger man.

“I was just walking the ball back and making him play every single ball. And at that moment, he wasn’t into it. He starts missing. And he got tighter, I think. He understood that’s his chance to close the match,” Tsitsipas said. “And I just did things right and, yeah, I broke him. That’s how you break, if you play things right and you play clever. And I did that, and I was back in the match again.”

As he played with house money, Tsitsipas just hung around until it was definitely, indubitably over and the two shook hands. His more-accomplished opponent did not.

Hang in, and good things can happen

The world No. 2 from Germany had two match points in the second-set tiebreak. And he was up a break in the third set, as well. And after he coughed that up, it was as though his mind just left the court. Beyond one angry firing of the racquet that was betraying him, it was almost as though he was merely a bystander observing his own demise.

Tsitsipas
You know who’s going to be really happy about all the Zverev-Tsitsipas clashes to come? adidas, that’s who. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

He went 1-for-9 on break points in that third set, after going 4-for-5 in the first two.

Notably, Tsitsipas earned just four break points over nearly 2 1/2 hours. But he made good on all of them even if his own first-serve percentage never went over 50 per cent in any of the three sets.

A Challenge left undone

A case in point: as Zverev served to stay in the match at 4-5, leading the game 30-15, he crushed an inside-out forehand that landed plumb on the sideline.

Tsitsipas
The ball, at 4-5, 30-15, wasn’t just barely in. It was right on the line, a clean winner that would have given Zverev a 40-15 lead as he served to stay in the match. He didn’t challenge.

Except the linesperson called it out. And Zverev didn’t even question it. He barely even reacted.

Within a matter of moments, he tried a best-left-undone serve and volley. And then on match point, Zverev double-faulted. Badly. You could see that coming a mile away.

Tsitsipas also had his spidey senses tingling.

“Well, yeah, to be honest with you, I kind of suspected before he even start his motion that there’s going to be a chance for me to close it straight away. And I was not expecting a double fault, but I was at least expecting something more in my terms, let’s say,” he said.

Tsitsipas appeared stunned with it was over, and with good reason. He was absolutely down and out. And suddenly he was holding his arms up in the air in victory, and looking ahead to his first Masters 1000-level semifinal against No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson on Saturday.

“Pathetic”, said Zverev

Zverev may have come into the press conference room a little too hastily, because he’ll probably get some heat for his … honesty.

He thought they were both horsebleep.

“I don’t think today he played that well. I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels. You know, returning, he started to return. I mean, he was serving 125 (mph) to my backhand, and I was missing them. That does not happen,” Zverev said. “I mean, I’m very honest with you guys. I always say when the opponent play(s) better. I’m probably one of the most honest guys on tour. Today was a pathetic match from -– I don’t even think he played well.

“He started putting some balls into the court. I think before he was playing really bad. And I actually thought I was playing bad the whole match,” Zverev added. “So I lost a little bit of concentration. I lost a little bit of rhythm, but it wasn’t – I mean, even if I would have won, it wasn’t a good match.”

Zverev wasn’t necessarily wrong, even if the delivery left a little to be desired.

Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas had clearly been tipped off about that comment before coming into press nearly 90 minutes later. So he had his response ready.

“I’m working with a sports psychologist that’s really good. And he told me something, and I remember it since like four or five years. That a good player can be seen in his bad day. And I completely agree with that. The level of tennis today, in my opinion, was not the highest. It was all right. People seemed to love it, love the show and everything,” Tsitsipas said.

But I played – I would say I played okay. He seemed … I don’t know. The conditions are different here. So it’s really tough for me to compare with Washington. Because Washington, you know, with the conditions and everything was completely different. Speed, surface, it was slightly faster there,” he added. “So I would say I played more clever this time. I kind of fooled him when I was on the court and did some things that he didn’t expect me to do. And I changed my plan since last week. And as I said, I got lots of experience last week and managed to pull it out today in the match.”

It was a dramatic match because of the turnaround in fortunes. And it was an attractive matchup because it involved two of the best young talents in the game. But from a tennis perspective, it left a lot on the table.

The Geman felt he should have won it 6-3, 6-3. And he also felt that the third set should probably also have been 6-3. 

Except, it wasn’t. And Tsitsipas, who began the 2018 season ranked No. 91, will jump into the top 20 on Monday for the first time. If he can beat Anderson on Saturday, he would jump into the top 15.

On to Cincinnati

By failing to defend the title he earned last year in Montreal, Zverev will drop a spot in the rankings, to No. 4.

And that will allow del Potro, who did come to Toronto but withdrew before the event started with pain in right wrist – a worrisome development, given his history  – will move to No. 3 for the first time in his star-crossed career.

The lanky Zverev, who doesn’t yet have the physical maturity he’ll enjoy a few years down the road, has played a lot of tennis over the last week. The run to the D.C. title was five singles wins plus a doubles match. The conditions were brutal, and he also had to play his big brother Mischa for the first time in what was an emotional affair for the entire family.

In Toronto, more heat, rain, humidity and late nights, and three more singles matches. So the defeat, as tough as it might be to swallow, might have a silver lining.

“Look, at the end of the day, I played a lot of matches and physically I’m quite tired,” he said. “So I’m actually quite happy to have few days off before another Masters (in Cincinnati, another event where heat and humidity are on the order of play) and then a Grand Slam (at the US Open).”

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

Wimbledon ’18: Men’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – The pre-draw speculation on the men’s side of the game these days is big business.

With so many players who were at the summit not long ago having dropped in the rankings because of injuries, the early-round traps have increased exponentially.

Those traps are more than somewhat in theory, because those injured players who have taken a long time to return to form are not yet at their peak levels. At the same time, you know what they’re capable of on any given day – especially on the big stages.

Among the dangerous floaters of interest for this year’s Wimbledon were Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gaël Monfils.

And the draw gods were not kind.

Murray vs. Paire

Murray, who as of Friday wasn’t 100 per cent decided if his surgically repaired hip was up to the rigours of best-of-five set tennis, drew the dangerous if mercurial Benoit Paire.

It seems, though, that he’ll give it a go.

Paire, silver hair and all, should have beaten Roger Federer in the first round in Stuttgart with a smidgen more belief and focus. That one could be enthralling.

Wawrinka vs. Dimitrov

As for Wawrinka, his return from knee surgeries has taken a whole lot longer than he would have hoped. His true ranking at the moment is a shocking No. 225.

And his draws so far during the grass-court season have not helped: Sam Querrey in the second round at Queen’s, and … Murray in the first round of Eastbourne after both took wild cards to get in more match play.

Wawrinka has been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist twice. And in 2015, he was unlucky not to go further as he lost 11-9 in the fifth set to Richard Gasquet.

His luck didn’t get better Friday,.

The draw gods decreed that he play 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.

Not only is he 2-4 against Dimitrov in his career, he’s 0-4 in their last four meetings.

As for Monfils .. same story. The flashy Frenchman will square off with countryman Richard Gasquet in the first round. He leads that longtime rivalry 9-7.

The last two times they met came on grass, in Halle and at Eastbourne last year. They split the matches, and both were very close.

Monfils played just three non-clay tournaments this season, until he finally surfaced on grass in Antalya, Turkey this week as a wild card.

He pulled off two tough wins, and was only a few points away from a straight-sets win over No. 1 seed Adrian Mannarino before finally ceding 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals.

But … he tweaked his knee. Monfils’s knees are not great under ideal circumstances. So we’ll see what the next few days bring.

draw
No, Gaël Monfils wasn’t taking a nap early in the third set in Antalya Friday. He slid and messed up his left knee, although it may not have been quite as bad as first appeared. (TennisTV.com)

Other first-round matches to watch

[12] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Tennys Sandgren (USA)

Whither Sandgren, who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in recent weeks?

The American, who was a surprise quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, lost in the second round of qualifying at Wimbledon a year ago.

His fortunes have changed, as he broke into the top 50 in April. 

analysisSandgren lost in the first round of five of the six clay-court tournaments he played this spring.

The exception was Geneva, where he posted two victories. But he hasn’t been seen since. 

He had entered some events, but he hasn’t played a single point on grass while Djokovic found some of his trademark swagger – and game – as he reached the final at Queen’s Club.

The Serb couldn’t ask for a better opener. And his section of the draw is inviting, with Dominic Thiem potentially looming in the fourth round.

[26] Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Jérémy Chardy (FRA)

For Shapovalov, the 2016 junior Wimbledon singles champion, this second grass-court season is proving a challenge.

He lost in the first round of Stuttgart to Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked No. 169. And he lost in the first round of Queen’s Club in two tiebreaks to big lefty-serving Gilles Muller.

That’s one tough little section.

Finally, as the No. 3 seed, he posted up a three-set victory in Eastbourne over American Jared Donaldson, only to lose to Mischa Zverev in straight sets in his next match.

His opponent, Chardy, is playing the best tennis of his life at age 31.

He’s 12-2 on grass this season with a win at the Surbiton Challenger, a loss to Gasquet in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch final and a loss to Djokovic in the Queen’s semi.

It is going to be a big challenge for Shapovalov. And he’s in an absolutely loaded little section of the draw, too.

[24] Kei Nishikori (JPN) vs. [Q] Christian Harrison (USA)

The former top-five player still isn’t close to the form he displayed before a wrist injury took him out for the latter part of 2018.

And what of Harrison, whose story we chronicled on tennis.life

This will be his Wimbledon debut and while it wasn’t an ideal draw, it will at least be a matchup in which he can use his speed, and not be served off the court.

He’ll have a lot of folks rooting for him, too.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) vs. Mischa Zverev (GER)

This one will be as close to old-school grass-court tennis as you’re likely to get, with both players willing and keen to serve-and-volley and move forward.

Potential round-of-16 matchups

[1] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [16] Borna Coric (CRO)
[8] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs. [11] Sam Querrey (USA)
[3] Marin Cilic (CRO) vs. [13] Milos Raonic (CAN)
[6] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs. [9] John Isner (USA)

[7] Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs. [12] Novak Djokovic (SRB)
[4] Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. [15] Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
[5] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) vs. [10] David Goffin (BEL)
[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. [14] Diego Schwartzman (ARG)

Potential quarterfinals

Roger Federer vs. Anderson/Querrey
Cilic /Raonic vs. Isner/Dimitrov
Zverev /Kyrgios vs. Djokovic
Nadal vs. Del Potro

Upsets and revivals

There are some highly-ranked players who have made surprisingly little noise in recent month. And you’d think some of them will not make their seeding.

Then again, when it comes Slam time, so many players will rise to the occasion.

analysis

Jack Sock, the No. 18 seed, is in the throes of a mighty slump in 2018. While you wouldn’t expect him to lose to Matteo Berrettini in the first round, this might be the tournament where he can start getting on a roll.

He has a friendly section where his power will be a plus. The highest seed in it is No. 10 David Goffin, who similarly has been rather quiet of late and played just one grass-court match coming in.

No. 28 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia has not played since Miami – that’s more than three months now. He has entered a lot of tournaments, and pulled out of every one and were it not Wimbledon, you probably wouldn’t expect to even see him here.

He’ll have to be careful, though. If Krajinovic is not fully fit, he could end up with a “Mischa Zverev” fine for failing to take the late withdrawal money and remaining in the draw.

No. 17 seed Lucas Pouille also is struggling this season. And in wild card Denis Kudla, he faces a player in the first round fully in form on the grass and one who loves playing on it.

Top half on Monday

As it’s tradition for the defending champion to be the first to walk out on famed Centre Court, Monday at 1 p.m., so will the rest of the top of the draw follow suit along with Federer.

Among the Monday matches to keep an eye on: Federer vs. Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, whom he defeated in straight sets in the second round a year ago.

Monfils vs. Gasquet will be another one, along with Dimitrov vs. Wawrinka. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old Greek player, is seeded at a major for the first time at No. 31 – in only his fifth career Grand Slam main draw. So far, he has one victory at this level, at the French Open last month against Carlos Taberner.

analysis

Two years ago, he was fighting Shapovalov for a spot in the junior boys’ final in one of the best junior boys’ matches we’ve ever seen on grass – if not the best. He was just a couple of points away from winning it, and went on to take the junior boys’ doubles title with Kenneth Raisma of Estonia, over Shapovalov and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the final.

And look at them now.

Tsitsipas gets French qualifier Grégoire Barrere in the first round, and he’s in Dimitrov’s section of the draw.

Next Gen returns for round two in Milan

The Next Gen Finals are held in Milan – and, indeed, the second-largest court at the Rome tournament is called the “Next Gen Arena”.

So it made sense to have a press conference Tuesday in Rome to preview the second edition of the event, which returns basically with the same format.

On the realistic side, the photo with the press release did not feature the far-and-away leader in the road to Milan, Alexander Zverev.

The 21-year-old did leave an opening in 2017, saying around this time of the year that he hadn’t ruled out trying to play both events. The Next-Gen Finals take place the week before the ATP Tour Finals in London.

This year, the Madrid Open champion, the world No. 3 right behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, will have ideas of perhaps winning in London. So there will be no fake news in that regard.

Zverev currently has more than triple the number of points earned by the next on the list, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Tsitsipas will be the marquee name, along with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, 19. Shapovalov, who made his Milan debut last year, vaulted into third place in the race to Milan with his semifinal effort in Madrid last week and is now in the top-30 in the regular ATP Tour rankings.

He’s just four points behind Tsitsipas, with four fewer tournaments on his resumé.

A year ago, Tsitsipas slotted into 10th spot in the Milan race, just missing the cut.

2017 champion Chung graduated

Hyeong Chung, the 2017 champion, also attended the press conference, even if he had pulled out of the Rome tournament. He turns 22 on Saturday, and so no longer is eligible for the event.

Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Jared Donaldson and Borna Coric also have aged out.

The Next Gen of the Next Gen is probably not quite as advanced as that inaugural crop, in terms of the level they’re playing at the moment.

While Tsitsipas Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev and Frances Tiafoe are now established at the ATP Tour level, the rest of the field isn’t quite there yet.

Taylor Fritz, currently ranked No. 68, has made a couple of good runs at the ATP level this year – notably a fourth round at Indian Wells. But he hasn’t quite turned the corner – at least, not yet. 

Alex de Minaur is at a career high. But despite his great effort in the Australian Open warmup events to start the season, he’s still outside the top 100. In two clay-court Challengers in Portugal the last two weeks, de Minaur lost to Casper Ruud of Norway and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain – two young players around his age, but ranked much lower.

Another Aussie, 21-year-old Marc Polmans, has moved his ranking up at the lower levels. He went 19-1 during a series of four Futures events in Australia over the winter, and his only match above the Challenger level this season was a first-round qualifying loss at the Australian Open.

Auger-Aliassime, at the top of the alphabetical list, is the only 17-year-old in the top-60 in the Milan race. But he currently sits at No. 27, a long way back even if he is arguably far more talented than many of the players ahead of him.

But it’s early, yet.

Innovative rules remain

An interesting number the tournament put out was that despite the “shortened” format – first to four games, up to five “mini sets”, the average match was just three minutes shorter than the ATP Tour average in the regular best-of-three format.

The range was more limited, though. In part, that’s because the tournament is played on an indoor fast surface. The ATP Tour year-long average also includes a significant number of clay-court events.

For the Next-Gen, match times ranged from 60 minutes to two hours, six minutes.

ATP Tour, matches ranged from 39 minutes to three hours, 12 minutes.

On the downside, the pre-match warmup will be shortened even more.

In 2017, it had been five minutes from the time of the second player walk-on. That’s already significantly shorter than most warmups during the ATP Tour season, where the umpires are rather generous with the three- and two-minute warnings, and the time limits are often swayed by the length of the player introductions.

In 2018, they will shorten that to four minutes. That’s ranging into a territory where the warmup is so brief, the players will still be a little cold when they start the matches. And that can mean more muscle pulls.

Towel racks on court

Finally, someone has addressed the issue of the ballkids handling sweaty towels, offering personal service to the players between points.

There will be towel racks at the back of the court. And the players will be told to use them “to remove the onus on ball kids to handle towels.”

Given that will take a few seconds longer, either the players will go to the “rack” less often. Or they will complain about running out of time although the Next-Gen play at a far less pokey pace than some of the grownups.

There was no word about the opening ceremony, and whether the ladies hired to … spice up the proceedings will be back.

You’d think … not. But it’s in Italy, so you never know.

In a battle of teenagers, the younger prevails

MELBOURNE, Australia – One of the finest junior matches in recent memory came at Wimbledon in 2016, when 17-year-olds Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas battled in the semifinals.

Two one-handed backhands. Both serve-volleying, chip-charging and using the entire court like a couple of savvy veterans.

Shapovalov, younger by eight months, won that one and defeated Aussie Alex de Minaur to win the title.

A year and a half later, the two met for the first time as pros.

And Shapovalov proved to still be a little ahead of the curve.

The 18-year-old handled the occasion – and the swirly, difficult winds – with more aplomb in a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory that puts him in the second round against No. 15 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

“We’re going to play so many times in the future, I’m going to win some, I’m going to lose some. I think he’s developed quite a lot as well. I just managed to play better today,” said Shapovalov, who was stronger on every level and hit 33 winners to Tsitsipas’s 11.

“Bringing back the match in juniors, it was a hell of a match, I think we’ve both improved quite a bit from back then. But just today I was able to play better than he did.”

Slice return proved effective

Shapovalov added a slice backand return in the offseason. And he used it well on Monday. It was a necessary response to the opponents already having picked up on his tendancy to hit full-out topspin backhands on most returns, and trying to rush him out wide – especially on the deuce side.

“It’s definitely one area I’ve focused on in the offseason along with coming to the net more, stuff like this. I feel it’s a variety that I’ve added to my game that’s definitely helped me these few matches. Hopefully I can keep improving it, and have a good slice like Roger (Federer) one day,” Shapovalov said.

“It’s a combination of getting more returns in and staying inside the points. Sometimes when I go for the topspin it takes me too much out of the court positioning, With the slice I feel I can recover faster, and get in the point.”

Tsitsipas was clearly tight to start the match. He qualified for the main draw at both the French Open and Wimbledon last year, but lost in the first round. It was the first Australian Open for both, but Shapovalov had more experience.

“I went a little bit deeper in the Grand Slam in New York. I was bringing back a couple of old memories playing the few Grand Slams that I have,” he said. “But definitely I felt from the beginning I would be a bit more comfortable, and that’s what happened. He was a little more tight to start, and I just used that advantage.”

Tough conditions

By the third set, Tsitsipas appeared to be struggling with the conditions even though it was not a hot day at all. The swirly wind was definitely strength-sapping. Shapovalov is more compact and muscular; Tsitsipas, who hasn’t finished filling out his long, lanky body (he’s built something like Alexander Zverev), was more affected.

teenagers
Tsitsipas was doubled over by the end of the match, but it was all over but the shouting anyway. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

By the very end, he appeared to be starting to cramp – first in the leg, and then in the stomach area. No doubt nerves played a part.

“I remember staying on one side and I felt like the wind was against me, I felt like I was forcing all my shots. So then I thought, the following game, when I went to the other side, I would be with the wind. But I got to the other side, and it felt even heavier,” Shapovalov said, laughing. “It was really swirly for both guys. We had a couple of weird points. It was tricky, but it’s part of the game, just something we had to deal with.”

Tsonga next – again

Shapovalov finished up before knowing the identity of his next opponent, whose match was played late night.

It turned out to be Tsonga, the player he defeated in the second round of the US Open on his way to the round of 16.
“I had really good feelings playing him last year, an unbelievable match from my side. It would be an honour to play him again. Another matchup that I would like, and I’m excited for the match,” he said.

First Wimby for teens Rublev and Tsitsipas

WIMBLEDON – The two career moments took place within moments of each other, on two courts in the field at the Bank of England Sports Grounds that were kitty-corner to each other. 

And if the moment was identical, the reactions were wildly different.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, still just 18, was the first to make his first career Wimbledon main draw. Just a year ago, he was playing the junior event.

For more than three hours, he had maintained his youthful composure. After a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win over Joris de Loore of the Netherlands, the teenager leaped into the air several times and had a look of pure joy on his face,  

As Tsitsipas celebrated, 19-year-old Andrey Rublev of Russia was serving for the match against 35-year-old Paul-Henri Mathieu of France just a few feet away.

He closed out a 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4 victory that put him into the main draw in his third career attempt to qualify.

Rublev’s angst-riddled court drama already is a well-oiled machine. But he had almost no reaction after this career moment. He clenched his first, made the sign of the cross, looked up to the sky, and went up to shake Mathieu’s hand.

Here’s how it looked, at it happened.

Slow and steady for Tsitsipas

With a one-handed backhand, an all-court game and matinee-idol looks, Tsitsipas stayed in the junior ranks until his eligibility was used up. That’s fairly rare these days with the top tier of promising players.

He already had turned 18 when he played the US Open juniors last September. Tsitsipas lost to eventual champion Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, two years younger, in the semifinals there. He lost to another Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, a year younger, in a junior Wimbledon final a year ago.

It was one of the finest junior matches in recent years – chock-full of one-handed backhands, chip and charges, net-rushes and good sportsmanship.

He has often be overshadowed by more precocious players. But with his ATP Tour ranking at No. 190 coming into this week, Tsitsipas is on a steady, studied path.  

His first full year in the professional ranks hasn’t resulted in a big rankings leap. But he has been gaining in experience as he fills out his lanko 6-foot-4 frame.

New in the top 100

Rublev, 6-foot-2, listed at just 150 pounds has an extraordinary-looking face. It can go from baleful, to despairing, to brilliantly sunny in the blink of an eye.

His path has been different than that of Tsitsipas.

A year older and a regular junior doubles partner of top-20 player Alexander Zverev, Rublev just broke into the top 100 for the first time last week. He reached the quarter-finals on grass in Halle, Germany.

This is his third try at the Wimbledon qualifying. A year ago, he lost in straight sets to the hero of the week, Brit Marcus Willis, in the second round.

Rublev became the No. 1 junior in the world after the 2014 US Open. He won the junior French Open that spring. And he decided to forego his last year of junior eligibility and hit the pro circuit full-time.

Tsitsipas became No. 1 just before last year’s French Open juniors.

On their two courts Thursday, the dynamics were very different.

Tsitsipas’ opponent, de Loore, is 24 and has been a professional for six years. But only in the last 12 months has he been ranked high enough to try to qualify at majors. He has now tried each at each one once; this was his closest effort yet, against the most beatable opponent he has faced.

But he will have other opportunities.

Adieu for Mathieu

Across the way, there was a poignancy in Rublev’s victory over Mathieu. The Frenchman said goodbye at his home Grand Slam in Paris earlier this month. And on that day, he said that he just wanted to play Wimbledon one more time.

He was denied at the final stage, by a kid who will be playing Wimbledon for the first time. There’s a certain symmetry to that. As a door closes for an older man, while a window opens for the kid.

Ranked No. 138 now, after dealing with several major injuries through the latter stages of his career, Mathieu has four career ATP Tour titles and earned his first career ranking when Rublev was less than a year old. 

Twice, he has reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. This was only his second time even travelling to Roehampton for the qualifying in a Wimbledon history that stretches back to 2002.

It felt, by the way they greeted each other at the net, that Rublev sensed what the moment meant for Mathieu.

Tsitsipas

One man was saying hello, the other was saying goodbye.

But in the end, it turns out that you arrive, and you leave, the very same way – with a big backpack on your back,  your tournament credential swinging in the breeze, alone with your thoughts.