Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas remembers spending countless hours with his father watching Pete Sampras play. Tsitsipas would serve, slice, volley and do everything to follow in the footsteps of Sampras, an American of Greek descent.
“He was always there,” Tsitsipas said of Sampras. “We always saw him as a big legend of our sport.”
Tsitsipas Celebrates 23rd Birthday With Khachanov Win
That makes it even more special that they share a birthday. On Thursday, Tsitsipas turned 23, and Sampras turned 50. After advancing to the quarter-finals of the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers, Tsitsipas spoke about what he admires most about his birthday buddy.
“His flamboyant game. I enjoyed watching his serve-and-volley game,” Tsitsipas said. “People say Roger Federer is effortless. I also feel like Pete Sampras was very effortless and just making the game so beautiful to watch.”
In a way, Sampras has always been part of Tsitsipas’ life. When his father, Apostolos Tsitsipas, began tennis in his late teens, he always watched the American legend.
“[Pete] was a player that he really liked to watch and he passed it on to me,” Tsitsipas said. “Both of us grew up watching him. I grew up being given Pete as an example.”
Stefanos was too young to watch Sampras during his career. When Tsitsipas was born, ‘Pistol Pete’ was already an 11-time major winner. But one thing that sticks out to the Greek about the former World No. 1’s career is that he went out on top by lifting the trophy at the 2002 US Open, which was his final tournament.
“That was the best ending of someone’s career, to be honest with you, to win a Grand Slam title and just call it a day,” Tsitsipas said, cracking a smile. “He did it in unbelievable style. Doesn’t get any better, I think.”
Tsitsipas got excited when he recalled meeting Sampras two years ago in Indian Wells. The third seed was almost as thrilled when tournament officials brought a birthday cake onto the court Thursday following his victory against Karen Khachanov.
“[It was] the best feeling, one of the best feelings that you can experience on a tennis court,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m glad they remembered. It also reminded me my age, which I like to think is five years less sometimes.”
The Greek admitted that name days — a day of the year associated with a given name — when are even bigger than birthdays for his family. But Tsitsipas was happy to get a win this time considering he lost against Rafael Nadal in the Toronto final three years ago on the day he turned 20.
“Birthdays are the best, because people remember you, people send you nice presents and messages,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s always a beautiful day when it’s your birthday.”