It was a running joke that took a life of its own at the start of Davis Cup week: With Stefanos Tsitsipas playing, Greece already has two singles matches in the bag.
But to paraphrase a quote that has been attributed to both American boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the best way to tell a joke is to tell the truth—because the truth is often the funniest.
And here’s the painful truth confronting the Philippine Davis Cup team: Tsitsipas, the 21-year-old Greek star who is ranked No. 6 in the world, is one of the few threats to the current tennis “Big Three” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
And everybody outside of the Philippine Davis Cup squad thinks he is untouchable in the Davis Cup tie that kicks off on Friday with the opening singles matches.
Except maybe Tsitsipas himself.
“You know we haven’t … gone [out and played yet]; it’s like an idea for the future,” Tsitsipas told the Inquirer before Thursday’s draw in their World Group 2 tie against the Philippines.
“I don’t know what to say; we still have to play, we still have to prove ourselves,” he said. “These two wins are not guaranteed so we got to put the job in and make it happen.”
Filipino No. 2 Alberto Lim Jr. earned the first shot at Tsitsipas—could be the only shot, in fact, depending on how the rest of the tie goes—and the two have a history.
Tsitsipas was even self-effacing during the press conference when he was reminded that Lim once beat him during their junior days at an Orange Bowl event in Florida.
Lim, sounding embarrassed, butted in: “Hey, I told [the reporter] not to write [about] it.”
“Yeah, yeah I think I remember something; I always remember my losses,” Tsitsipas jokingly said. “We grew together playing the same tournaments in juniors. It’s nice to play against him now.”
The other Friday matchup will feature top Filipino player Jeson Patrombon going up against Tsitsipas’ brother, Petros.
The doubles matches on Saturday will pit Francis Casey Alcantara and Ruben Gonzales against Petros Tsitsipas and Markos Kalovelonis.
The Philippines hopes that its familiarity with the surface of the Philippine Columbian Association courts will dull some of the edge of the Greek squad—which hasn’t played on a slot and slippery shell-clay court before.
“It’s humid, it’s tough to compete in indoor facility,” said Greece nonplaying captain Dimitris Chatzinikolaou. [The surface], it’s interesting, it’s something new. But we do our best although I don’t think we have been in this kind of surface before.”
And it’s probably why Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a finals loss to Djokovic in a Dubai tournament, is taking things seriously against the Philippines and Lim, who stands nine inches shorter than him.
“We have to prove with our performance, with just being humble and going out there and showing everyone what we’re capable of,” Tsitsipas said. “I don’t want to think too much of having two wins in our pocket.”
It’s very clear that for the Greek superstar, this Davis Cup tie is no laughing matter.
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