French Open: Novak Djokovic rallies to Grand Slam No. 19
Novak Djokovic has claimed his second French Open title after coming from behind to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros. Djokovic was two sets down in the match before managing to elevate his game in the last three sets
Novak Djokovic felt like he had climbed Mount Everest after beating 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-final. Less than 48 hours later, after being two sets to love down in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No. 1 was staring at another long and arduous climb to get to his 19th Grand Slam title.
However, the last couple of weeks have seen newer boundaries set in the limitless world of Djokovic the tennis professional and athlete. Ward off an Italian teen 15 years younger to him in five sets? No fuss. Become the only man to beat Nadal twice in Paris? Why not? Win a Grand Slam final for the first time after losing the first two sets? Sure.
Moments after smacking a loopy full ball at the net away from Tsitsipas’s reach, Djokovic shook his opponent’s hand, walked to the other side of the net and simply raised both his arms. He was probably too exhausted to do anything more.
“It was not easy, coming back from two sets down. I played almost nine hours of tennis in 48 hours,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview.
Played, and won.
Djokovic beat fifth seed Tsitsipas 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 after fighting for more than four hours, lifting the Slam that puts him one below Roger Federer and Nadal in the all-time record list. The Serb became the first man in the Open Era to hold all four Majors at least twice, winning the French Open again after five years.
The 22-year-old Tsitsipas, playing his first Slam final and chasing a first title for Greece, sat on his chair with head wrapped in the towel. He had said before the final that he would give it his all. He did, from the start.
The first game itself had a variety from the tennis buffet: a double fault; a forehand return winner; backhand down-the -line winner; backhand up-the-line winner; incredible defence at the baseline; three straight aces to round it off as Tsitsipas saved a couple of break points to hold. First Slam final jitters? Not for this Greek.
Tsitsipas was locked in, and soon had Djokovic tumbling. The Serb attempted a drop shot in the seventh game, a strategy he continued to resort to throughout and gradually grew successful. Tsitsipas ran it down, returned a dipping, topspin forehand crosscourt drop of his own that left Djokovic scrambling and flat on the ground near the net.
Yet for all the quality Tsitsipas displayed, it took him 14 points and 33 minutes to merely win a point on the Djokovic serve. But the moment the world No. 1’s immaculate first serve levels dropped, Tsitsipas began dictating on the weaker second serves. At 5-4, Djokovic was forced to stave off a set point with a 25-shot baseline rally, and broke the youngster the next game to serve for the set. What followed was un-Djokovic like though with three errors giving Tsitsipas the lifeline of a tiebreaker.
Djokovic’s previous tiebreaker—in the third set against Nadal—was a modern-day classic where the Serb often rose to majestic heights. This one brought him down. A double fault and a slew of errors gave Tsitsipas a 4-0 lead. Djokovic wiped it off and led 6-5 due to Tsitsipas’s errors and the net chord helping a Djokovic volley over. Tsitsipas saved another set point with a cracking forehand winner off the return, and 68 minutes into it, took the opening honours when a Djokovic forehand was dragged wide.
A high-octane set like that is often followed by a drop in level. Djokovic’s plummeted; Tsitsipas’s prolonged. The Greek broke the Serb in the first game of the second set courtesy double faults and errors, and again in the seventh game. Djokovic looked flat, Tsitsipas bounced around. The 34-year-old, perhaps starting to feel the physical and emotional hangover from the epic against Nadal, didn’t even bother to attempt a return of serve on the final point.
Djokovic took a break to go off court, and returned seemingly refreshed. Certainly, more solid. Like he did after the first set against Nadal, Djokovic tightened his game while Tsitsipas’s unraveled. The Greek was on the edge in the fourth game, saving four break points with a forehand winner, two overheads, a backhand down-the-line and a baseline duel. Djokovic finally pushed him over, earning the lone break of the set. Tsitsipas’s unforced error count surged from 2 to 11 from the second to third set; Djokovic’s fell from 10 to 4.
It was Tsitsipas’s turn to hit the pause button, receiving on-court treatment on his lower back after the set. Tsitsipas now looked fatigued, coming off a five-set semi-final win over Alexander Zverev. Djokovic sensed that and pounced, quickly going up a double break after ending a long rally with the deftest of drop shot winners. The young Greek’s body language also began to show signs of frustration in the one-sided fourth set.
It was Djokovic who landed the first punch in the one-set shootout for the title. In contrast to the Serb initiating multiple drop shots early on, it was his opponent who was taking pace off the ball. It backfired in the third game when two drop shots were met with winners from an onrushing Djokovic at the net, one of them finding the acutest of angles off his backhand. Djokovic got the break, enough to secure his hold on title No. 19.
The calendar slam beckons.