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Jannik Sinner, on top of the world Jannik Sinner, seul au monde

Stefanos Tsitsipas lost to Ugo Humbert (4/6 6/3 5/7) in the fourth round of the Shanghai Masters on October 9, 2023.

The early elimination of threatening seeds – such as Alexander Zverev or Daniil Medvedev – could have been a golden opportunity for the Greek. But like too many times this season, he didn’t take his chance. Stefanos Tsitsipas continues his spiral of early defeats.

Thesis

The sixth player in the world needed a few minutes to focus. He played a catastrophic first game – made of unforced errors – that gave the break to his opponent. The latter confirmed his advantage with a love game: 2/0. Ugo Humbert played an aggressive tennis that surprised the Greek. Forced to step back early in the rallies, Stefanos Tsitsipas underwent the French’s attacks. He saved two double break points on his way to winning a first game of serve: 2/1. Servers ruled for the next minutes. The quality of his serve buoyed Stefanos Tsitsipas while Ugo Humbert took advantage of his opponent’s short balls to multiply the winners: 5/3. As the end of the first set came closer, the two players got tensed. The Greek saved a set point with a smash before worrying the French on his serve. A string of hasty mistakes gave a couple of break points to Stefanos Tsitsipas. He didn’t convert any of these opportunities. The first set was French: 6/4.

Ugo Humbert deserved to win the first set. Unlike his opponent, he managed to play an aggressive and dominant set of tennis. His game plan was crystal clear: using Stefanos Tsitsipas’ backhand weakness to receive short balls. The Greek, too far behind his baseline, didn’t free his strikes.

Antithesis

The second set started a new dynamic. Conquering, Stefanos Tsitsipas varied his shots. Buoyed by powerful first serves, he played a constructed forward tennis: 2/1. Ugo Humbert needed a few minutes to adapt. Under pressure from his opponent’s rising to the net, he forgot his tennis. The French lost a 22-strikes rally – and his serve in the process. Stefanos Tsitsipas confirmed his break with a love game: 4/1. The two players’ positioning on the court was inverted. The Greek finished the rallies standing mid-court while Ugo Humbert stood two meters behind his baseline. The end of the set was made of a string of serves. No opportunity arose from either side of the net. Stefanos Tsitsipas picked up the score: one set all [6/3].

The Greek played a tennis worth of the top 10 during the second set: forehand accelerations followed at the net, freed backhands, and flawless serves. He gave the impression that the outcome of the encounter only depended on him. After having let Ugo Humbert exist in the first set, he managed to increase his game level in the second one.

Synthesis

Ugo Humbert cheered himself up at the start of the deciding set. He didn’t want the win to slip out of his fingers. He found back the aggressiveness that made the Greek doubt during the first set. Stefanos Tsitsipas got broken early after a too-long backhand: 2/0. Once again in a defensive position, he lost 9 out of the 10 first points of the deciding set: 3/0. With his back against the wall, the Greek freed his strikes to stop the hemorrhaging: 3/1. Ugo Humbert’s lefty sliced serves left Stefanos Tstisipas standing; he fought back with dazzling kick serves. The Los Cabos champion took advantage of a string of unforced errors from the Frenchman to get back into the final: 4/4. Stefanos Tsitsipas seemed to have the upper hand. When he managed to return his opponent’s serves, he took control of the rallies: 6/5. Serving to play a tiebreak seemed like an easy task for the Greek. Reached by the pressure of the moment, Stefanos Tsitsipas lacked first serves. In a bad position, his forehand only gave him a few seconds of reprieve. Ugo Humbert made an amazing crossed-court backhand passing shot to get a match point – that he won.

This encounter illustrates Stefanos Tsitsipas’ 2023 season. When we think that we have finally found back the flaming hope of tomorrow’s tennis, a few minutes are enough to bring us back to reality. The 2021 French Open finalist and two-time Monte Carlo champion seems far away. At that pace, the ATP Finals isn’t a sure thing this year. Such a failure might bring him back to his senses – and his tennis.

Marnie Abbou

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