Novak Djokovic rallies to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in epic French Open final


After the sheer willpower and strength it took to topple Rafael Nadal on his surface and his court on Friday, Novak Djokovic was charged with returning to the scene two days later and summoning his prime form once more against the second-best clay‑courter of the season.

For a fair amount of time during this match it was reasonable to ask if this was a challenge too far, as his own waning energy and the force that is Stefanos Tsitsipas combined to create a two-set deficit for the Serb. Instead, Djokovic pulled off the type of manic recovery he has made look routine for over a decade, recovering to force five sets and eventually defeat Tsitsipas 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 and win his second French Open title.

The world No 1 has now won 19 major titles and he is within touching distance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s joint men’s record of 20. Having won the Australian Open this year, he is also halfway to the year’s grand slam for the second time in his career. Still, the most impressive achievement is that he has become the first man in the open era to win every major, Masters 1000 and ATP Finals title at least twice. A unique, unparalleled accomplishment.

“I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours,” said Djokovic. “Probably ranks at the top three all‑time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.”

With just over 11 years between Djokovic and Tsitsipas, this final had the sixth-largest age gap in the history of men’s finals in the open era. Men’s tennis today is a tale of battling generations, the young versus the eternal, yet the endings at the biggest tournaments remain the same. Djokovic continues to ask the young challengers whether they can stay with him over five sets in the biggest finals, enduring all those mental and physical battles with everything at stake. So far, they cannot.

In a high-quality, volatile opening set, Djokovic saved a set point, then badly failed to serve out the set at 6-5. The defining characteristic early on was Tsitsipas’s resilience. From 6-5 up in the tie‑break, Djokovic slammed down two tremendous clutch returns. Tsitsipas struck a beautifully timed forehand winner off the first, then at 6-6 he recovered with a quality defensive slice before hammering down the winning forehand. As the momentum shifted, Tsitsipas took the set.

It was reasonable to expect an immediate response, but it did not come. A languid Djokovic opened the second set with three unforced errors to fall a break down. As the errors continued, Tsitsipas carried on crushing his heavy, destructive forehand, finishing the set with nine winners to just two unforced errors.

But Djokovic has recovered so many times in his career from significant deficits, and during his toilet break between the second and third sets, as he struggled with doubting voices in his head, he took the rare action of speaking to himself aloud: “I told myself I can do it, encouraged myself,” he said. “I strongly started to repeat that inside of my mind, tried to live it with my entire being.”

Both players described him as a new player from that point and he quickly got to work. He slowly began to target the Tsitsipas backhand with loopy topspin and he pounced at 2-1 to break serve in a long, tense deuce game that would transform the match. As Djokovic broke serve, he was fully present and he marched through the set, emerging from it having made just four unforced errors.

Tsitsipas took a medical timeout at the start of the fourth set for a massage on his lower back and the roles had been reversed. Djokovic handled his business with unrelenting focus while Tsitsipas sprayed two unforced errors to lose his next service game, to which Djokovic responded by flitting through his games and losing just three points on serve.

As the crowd chanted his name and he stared down the prospect of a comprehensive ending, Tsitsipas saved a break point in the opening game of the fifth set. But at 1-1, Djokovic piled on pressure with his return, drawing a backhand error with another looping defensive forehand to break again.

Despite trailing throughout the set, Tsitsipas never stopped fighting. Down 2-4, he saved two break points. He forced a visibly nervous, passive Djokovic to serve out the match before drilling a backhand winner to save the first match point. He gave a strong account of his character, making it clear over the fortnight that he has everything he needs to one day make this tournament his own.

“I’m happy with the way I performed, the way I tried things, even if they didn’t work,” said Tsitsipas. “I don’t think I have regrets. Could have easily cried, but I see no reason for me crying because I tried everything. I couldn’t come up with anything better.”

Just not this time. Two points away from No 19, Djokovic bravely took control of his destiny, striking consecutive winners to conclude aptly one of the greatest tournaments he will ever play.

Source: The Guardian