© Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell/ATP World Tour

#NextGenATP Tsitsipas Finding Best Form In A Hurry

Greek feeling comfortable on the clay in Barcelona, nearing Top 50 of ATP Rankings

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached his first ATP World Tour final in Barcelona on Saturday, is only 19 years old, a leading candidate to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, where eight of the world's best 21-and-under players will compete from 6-10 November.

But the 6'3” right-hander is also leading his entire country. For nearly everything the Greek achieves on the ATP World Tour, he becomes the 'first' or the first in decades' time from Greece to celebrate the milestone.

Last October, Tsitsipas became the first Greek to enter the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings and the first Greek semi-finalist (2017 Antwerp) in 44 years (Kalogeropoulos, 1973 Des Moines). And after his start to the European clay-court season this year, Tsitsipas is well on his way to becoming the first Greek to enter the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings.

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I'm very happy to represent my country on the biggest stages, at the biggest tournaments,” Tsitsipas told ATPWorldTour.com. “It's very satisfying to help tennis grow up in Greece.”

The 19-year-old advanced to the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell final, beating Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5, 6-3. The Spaniard is the fourth seeded player that Tsitsipas has swept past this week at the ATP World Tour 500 tournament. The Greek also eliminated seventh seed Diego Schwartzman, 10th seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas and 2017 finalist Dominic Thiem.

“It's the surface. I feel very confident when I step on the dirt. I always show my best tennis on this surface,” Tsitsipas told ATPWorldTour.com. “I really hope the confidence keeps going. I'm very satisfied with my tennis so far.”

Tsitsipas grew up playing on the red dirt in Athens. He learned how to construct points on clay from a coach who emphasised attacking and approaching the net more so than using heavy spin to win matches.

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Recent practices with Patrick Mouratoglou have also helped. Tsitsipas splits his training between his home Athens and the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Nice.

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The things he told me have changed my game until now. I'm playing on a completely different level and when you play on a level where you feel that confident and so sure of yourself, nothing can stop you,” said Tsitsipas, who is also coached by his father, Apostolos Tsitsipas, and was coached by his mother, Julia Salnikova, a former professional player in the Soviet Union.

This season has marked quite the turnaround for Tsitsipas, who struggled to win a tour-level match for much of 2017. The teenager dropped his first eight tour-level contests before beating Russian Karen Khachanov at the Rolex Shanghai Masters last October. Tsitsipas had earned his opportunities, too: He qualified an ATP-best eight times last year.

But since Shanghai, Tsitsipas has reached one final (Barcelona 2018), one semi-final (Antwerp 2017), two ATP World Tour quarter-finals (2018 Doha, Dubai) and has played better than .500 tennis (12-10).

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The runs have put him in great position to make his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals. After his trip to the Barcelona final, he's projected to climb to second place in the ATP Race To Milan, which will determine seven of the eight players in Milan. The eighth will be chosen by wild card.

Tsitsipas got a taste of the new event last year when he served as an alternate. “All the NextGenATP players are giving me motivation to do better,” he said. “I see them, the way they do things and I want to do the same things they do. I want to stay high in the ATP Rankings and follow their footsteps.”

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*Story was first published 26 April and was updated 28 April