NEW YORK: Stefanos Tsitsipas is hoping to use his rising fame and popularity to bring an ATP tournament back to Greece.
Athens staged an ATP event between 1986 and 1994 and a WTA competition between 1986 and 1990 but over the past two decades, Greeks have had do make do with watching tennis on television or travelling abroad to see their top players.
The 20-year-old Tsitsipas, who recently broke into the world’s top 20, said he has seen plans to bring a tournament back to his home city.
“I think if things go the same as they are now, we’re going to see an ATP 250 or 500 in the next three, four, or five years (in Athens), in my opinion,” world number 15 Tsitsipas told Reuters at the US Open.
“I know some people back home that are interested in doing this and they showed me the project of how the tournament is going to look.”
“I was fascinated. It is in Athens of course (but) I was surprised at the location, because it’s actually very clever to (stage) this tournament there.”
Finding a slot in an already-xrowded ATP Tour calendar will not be easy but Tsitsipas said the tournament could be held in February, April, October (as in the past), or November.
Football and basketball are the most popular sports in Greece but tennis is increasing in popularity, helped by the rise of Tsitsipas and 23-year-old Maria Sakkari, ranked 30th in the world.
Tsitsipas is the first Greek man to be ranked inside the world’s top 100, while Sakkari is fast closing in on Eleni Daniilidou’s record for a Greek woman. Daniilidou climbed to 14th in the world in 2003.
Reaching the final of the Masters 1000 event in Toronto propelled Tsitsipas into the top 20 and though he was beaten in the second round at the US Open, he received “thousands of messages” of support.
“One message I received from one woman, she said ‘because of you, 71% of the kids at school choose tennis now,” Tsitsipas said.
“So I feel pretty proud of myself. I mean, no one played tennis before and now it’s 71, wow, so it must be pretty nuts when I get back there.”
Tsitsipas believes both he and Sakkari are on track to achieve big things.
“Things are very bright, there is a (good) future for sure, and this is just the beginning,” he said.
“We can achieve much more than this, and I would be very, very excited to maybe one day have Maria and me at the number one spot in the ATP and WTA rankings.”