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Tsitsipas hails Sparta spirit in Greek tennis breakthrough

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London (AFP)

Stefanos Tsitsipas hailed his Spartan fighting spirit on Friday as the teenager became the first Greek man in Open tennis ever to reach the last 16 of one of the four Grand Slams.

Tsitsipas beat Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in their third round clash at Wimbledon to set up a fourth round encounter with big-hitting US ninth seed John Isner.

The 19-year-old is a former junior number one and the third-youngest player in the top 100.

The world number 35 is the son of a Greek father and a Russian mother, Yuliya Salnikova-Tsitsipas, who played Fed Cup tennis for the Soviet Union.

His grandfather, Sergei Salnikov, was a Spartak Moscow football player and manager who was part of the Soviet team that won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. He also played at the 1958 World Cup.

Tsitsipas said his fighting character came from the Greek side of his family.

"Sparta," he said.

"I was a fighter and I hated losing since a very young age. Back in the day, I used to compete with children in my age group in Greece, and then I moved on to European level.

"But I've always wanted to be the best from a very young age. I just hated losing. That's why I was always fighting."

The only other Greek men to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam, all in the pre-Open Era of tennis, are Augustos Zerlendis (1920 Wimbledon), Lazaros Stalios (1936 French Open) and Nicky Kalogeropoulos (1964 Wimbledon).

- A father's love -

"I feel extremely proud that I can be the first Greek in the Open Era in the fourth round of a Grand Slam. There is so much satisfaction," he said.

Explaining how tennis had not taken strong roots in Greece, he said: "It's not in the culture yet, and people don't take tennis that seriously like other sports.

"Young kids can go out more and choose other sports instead of football or basketball, so they can go and play tennis."

Tsitsipas said he hoped through exposure to "make tennis a big thing in Greece".

Tsitsipas said his father Apostolos quit his job to support his son's burgeoning tennis career.

"As a kid, I had a completely different eye of this, different perspective," he explained.

"But now I do appreciate it more than I did before, because I do understand how this world works and how tough it is to leave certain things behind.

"It was a very tough decision for my dad to do this, because I didn't have anyone to travel with. It was my mum, but she had to take care of my other siblings, three more siblings.

"I don't know if he had a choice, but he just risked it. He just quit himself and start travelling with me.

"I do appreciate what he did for me, because it's amazing. Not many fathers would do this for their son."

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