Sport

Novak Djokovic outlasts Stefanos Tsitsipas for 19th Grand Slam title

Novak Djokovic won his 19th Grand Slam title after fighting back from two sets down to beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final.

Top seed Djokovic, 34, was in deep trouble before rediscovering his energy to win 6-7 (6-8) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4.

The Serb’s greater experience shone through as fifth seed Tsitsipas wilted in his first Grand Slam final.

The victory moves Djokovic one major title behind the men’s record jointly held by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Having beaten Nadal in an epic semi-final on Friday, he said: “It has been an unforgettable few moments for me in my life and my career. I will definitely remember these last 48 hours in my life.”

Djokovic, who previously won at Roland Garros in 2016, has become the first man to win all four Grand Slams twice since the fully professional Open era began in 1968.

The world number one will have the opportunity to move level on 20 titles with his great rivals Nadal and Federer when he defends his Wimbledon crown later this month.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 20 Grand Slam titles, with Novak Djokovic now one behind on 19
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are locked in a battle to be remembered as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)
After Tsitsipas saved one championship point with a nerveless forehand winner down the line, Djokovic remained calm to take his second attempt after four hours and 11 minutes with a clinical overhead.

His expression remained emotionless as he shook hands with Tsitsipas, before bursting into a manic roar in front of the area where his parents, wife Jelena and coach Marian Vajda were celebrating.

Tsitsipas was a picture of devastation as he slumped in his chair, draping a towel over his head to hide the full extent of his emotions.

Djokovic dishes out another lesson to younger generation
After Djokovic and third seed Nadal were drawn in the same half of the men’s singles, it presented the strong likelihood of a new name in a Grand Slam final from the other side of the draw.

Tsitsipas was already being tipped to be that man after earning more match wins than anyone else on the ATP Tour in 2021 and enjoying clay-court success with titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon.

The question that has long been asked – and continues to be posed – is whether the younger generation could translate tour-level talent into success over the old guard on the biggest stage of all.

The five-set format is long and arduous on body and mind over the fortnight. Time and time again, Djokovic has proved he has the physical and mental ability to outlast even the most talented opponents.

Initially, Djokovic appeared to be feeling the effects of Friday’s intense semi-final win over 13-time champion Nadal.

Looking weary and bothered by the bright Paris sun, he struggled on serve and was uncertain with his shot-making as he trailed by two sets.

Yet, as history has shown, it would have been foolish to write him off.

In his last-16 match against Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic fought back from two sets down for the fifth time in his career and showed signs he could do the same against Tsitsipas after a bathroom break before the third.

The pressure of a fifth break point told when Djokovic took Tsitsipas’ serve for a 3-1 lead. Suddenly, momentum had completely shifted.

Djokovic remained largely calm as his precise hitting and rhythm returned, helping him ease through the fourth set and put him in control of the decider.

The extraordinary effort Djokovic put in to beat Nadal would likely have been rendered pointless had he lost to Tsitsipas in the one that mattered even more.

Another break early in the decider gave him the opportunity to serve out the championship and, with more than four hours on the clock, survived a slight wobble to crush Tsitsipas’ dreams.

Tsitsipas made to wait for first Grand Slam title
Djokovic shakes hands with Tsitsipas at the net
Djokovic also beat Tsitsipas in five sets at last year’s French Open, but on that occasion had won the opening two of their semi-final
Having won the season-ending ATP Finals in 2019 and his first Masters title in Monte Carlo last month, Tsitsipas has already lifted some of the sport’s most important titles.

Of course, the four Grand Slams are a different matter altogether. After losing his first three semi-finals, the 22-year-old from just outside Athens was competing in his first major showpiece.

It came at the place where Tsitsipas said he had dreamed of playing as a child and in the first two sets he looked unfazed by the magnitude of the occasion.

Tsitsipas played with assurance and aggression as he looked on course to become the first Greek player to win a Grand Slam title.

Momentum completely swung, though, and suddenly, from previously being a picture of calm, Tsitsipas looked understandably stressed.

Signs of his frustration showed when he whacked his racquet on the clay and angrily muttered to himself, unable to shake off the annoyance and rediscover his previous levels as Djokovic headed towards victory.

“It was strange because my rhythm, my shots and my movement was perfect – then I felt cold and out of it. It was difficult to readjust,” said Tsitsipas, who needed treatment on his lower back at the end of the third set.

“I lost my game a little bit. I really wish I could understand why things like this happen.”

Although it was a painful defeat for Tsitsipas, the prospect of eventual Grand Slam success seems highly likely.

Djokovic used his on-court interview to assure his younger rival about his future.

“I can relate to what he is going through, I understand how difficult it is losing in a Grand Slam final,” said Djokovic, who lost his first three French Open finals.

“These are the matches and kind of occasions that you learn most from. He will come out stronger and I believe he will win many Grand Slams in the future.”

BBC

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