Novak Djokovic, chasing his 19th grand slam title and second at Roland Garros, succeeded in that quest but first had to suffer the possibility that he might have to wait to achieve those goals as he found himself trailing two-set to love with his challenger, Stefanos Tsitsipas seemingly well in control in the French Open final.
I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career Novak Djokovic
But as in the quarter-final, the world number one was able to recover to turn the match on its head for a 6-7(6) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory after a gruelling four-hours and 11-minutes.
That win makes Djokovic the only male in the Open Era to win two calendar grand slams, a feat not achieved by his two main rivals and moves him within one of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time Grand Slam leader-board.
“I am thrilled and I’m very proud of this achievement,” said Djokovic. “I think part of the history of the sport that I love with all my heart is always something that is very inspiring and very fulfilling for me. I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.
“Going through four-and-a-half battle with Rafa on his court, then bouncing back after not practicing yesterday, just coming in today with as much as recharged batteries and energy regained to fight another battle of four-and-a-half hours against Tsitsipas, who is playing in his first Grand Slam finals. It’s always, of course, a bit tricky because you’re playing for your trophy, for your first Grand Slam trophy, but you don’t have much to lose.”
At 5-all in the opening, Djokovic seemingly had the match within his grasp but got himself embroiled in a discussion with the umpire which rather distracted him, allowing his young challenger to take advantage.
Serving for the set Djokovic lost three straight points and got broken to 15. Then in the tiebreaker, he lost the first four points and despite battling back, it proved too little too late.
Tsitsipas, who had never lost a match from a set up in Paris, broke again to gain complete control of the match early in the second with the Serb starting to show the strain of the last few matches with Tsitsipas poised to win his first grand slam title.
But much like he did against Lorenzo Musetti in the quarters, he left the court to reassess his game and returned a new man having broken Tsitsipas’ concentration in the process, to claw his way back into the match by winning the third.
It was Tsitsipas’ turn to take a break, albeit a medical time out as he called for the physio for what looked like a lower back strain.
Djokovic broke again at the start the fourth and forced the match into a deciding fifth with the momentum very much in the Serb’s favour and inevitably, once he had pocketed an early break, he was able to stroll through the remaining games.
“Second set I dropped physically and mentally I think a little bit,” said Djokovic who struck 56 winners and won 78% on his first serve. “I just got fatigued a bit, just allowed him to kind of dominate the second set pretty much. Then went out from the court, as it was the case against Musetti in the fourth round when I was two sets down, and came back as a different player. Just refreshed, managed to make a break, early break in the third.
“After that I felt like I got into his head. I feel like I started swinging through the ball better. The momentum was on my side, it shifted. There was no looking back from that moment.”
Tsitsipas was the first Greek player to make a Slam final, but unfortunately for his fans, it proved a missed opportunity.
“Started playing really short,” Tsitsipas assessed. “I felt like my rhythm was off. I really don’t know why. It was very strange considering that I started finding my rhythm, finding my shots, my movement on the court was perfect, and suddenly just felt cold and out of it.
“It was difficult to readjust. I felt like I kind of lost my game a little bit. I really wish I could understand why things like this happened and evolved. But I was trying to figure it out during my game. It was difficult to come up with something.
“It’s very unfortunate, very sad in the same way because it was a good opportunity. I was playing good. I was feeling good. Yeah, I lost an opportunity to do something better today.”
At just 22, Tsitsipas is confident he will be able to put it down to experience and benefit from it in the long term.
“What I learned today is that no matter what, in order for the match to be finished, you have to win three sets and not two,” he said. “Two sets doesn’t really mean anything. It’s still one away of winning the entire match.
“I don’t think I relaxed. I don’t think I changed much. I just kept the same pace. I kept the things that were working for me. But it ended up, I don’t know, he left the court after two sets to love down, I don’t know what happened there, but he came back to me like a different player suddenly.
“Despite my loss today, I have faith in my game. I very much believe I can get to that point very soon. I was close today. Every opponent is difficult. There’s a small difference between the player I played today and the ones from before.
“But I think with the same attitude, if I don’t downgrade myself, I see no reason for me not to be holding that trophy one day.”
Djokovic will now head to Wimbledon as the defending champion and the tournament favourite. If he wins there, he would tie Federer and Nadal and then go into New York with a shot at 21 and completing the more impressive and elusive Grand Slam – the calendar Slam of all four majors in the same year.