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Greek players making a name for themselves at Aussie Open

January 18, 2019
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Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas smiles as he leaves the court after defeating Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Stefanos Tsitsipas earned more than $100,000 in prize money for winning his third-round match at the Australian Open. Just as important to the 20-year-old born in Athens, he’s going to have a souvlaki named after him at a Greek restaurant in Melbourne.

After his second-round win, Tsitsipas mentioned that he was aware his favorite Greek restaurant in Melbourne had named a souvlaki in honor of Greek-Cypriot player Marcos Baghdatis, who made a celebrated run to the final here in 2006.

Now he’s about to have his one of his own.

“Stefanos is a massive sensation and if he does well Friday, we’d love to name a souvlaki after him,” Stalactites managing director Nicole Papasavas told Australian Associated Press. “Everyone likes their souvlaki a little bit different so we’d ask him what he likes and tailor it to his tastes.”

Melbourne is home to about 175,000 Greeks, the largest concentration in a city outside of Greece. During that 2006 tournament, boisterous and flag-waving Greeks crammed the arenas and courts during Baghdatis’ matches, and he admitted their support helped him reach his only Grand Slam final (he lost to Roger Federer).

On Wednesday, both Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari played on Court 3, and the court was crammed with Greek fans. On Friday, they had the same morning start at adjoining Rod Laver Arena (Sakkari, who lost to Ashleigh Barty in straight sets) and Margaret Court Arena (Tsitsipas, who beat Nikoloz Basilashvili in four).

It was the first time a Greek man and woman advanced to the third round of the same Grand Slam tournament since 1936, when Lazaros Stalios and Phyllis Xydis made it that far at the French Open.

“That’s nice to hear,” Sakkari said. “I didn’t even know we had Greeks playing tennis back then. I hope Stef gets to the fourth round and beyond.”

Sakkari had the support of a group of a dozen young men dressed in blue singing Greek songs in between games. It was a bit more lively at Margaret Court Arena, particularly after Tsitsipas had clinched the win that made him the first Greek man to advance that far at multiple Grand Slam tournaments — he made it to the fourth round at Wimbledon last year.

Tsitsipas received two code violations for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the second set after he was forced to replay a point on an over-rule from the chair umpire. He lost his temper and said a few swear words in Greek.

“It was heat of the moment, I said some really bad things,” Tsitsipas said. “I regret saying them.”

Tsitsipas has a tough match ahead of him in the fourth round on Sunday: against six-time champion Federer.

The 37-year-old Federer was still playing American Taylor Fritz when Tsitsipas was asked who he’d rather face in the next round.

“If Roger wins, it’s going to be amazing playing in Rod Laver,” he said. “But, I really hope Taylor wins.”

At a later news conference he expanded a bit on his wish: “If I would know that Roger was 2-0 up when I said that, I probably wouldn’t have....”

Tsitsipas realizes the local Greek support could make a difference against Federer.

“They give a nice atmosphere, energy on the court,” he said. “I appreciate what they do. They really want it as bad as me.”

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