In a dramatic comeback, he defeated Tsitsipas in five sets to win his 19th career Grand Slam title. But he also won something greater.
Novak Djokovic has won the 2021 French Open on Sunday evening at Roland Garros, his second in Paris and 19th career Grand Slam title. And that still sells short of what he achieved over these last two weeks.
Less than 48 hours after beating 13-time champ Rafael Nadal in one of the great tennis takedowns, Djokovic whipped up some more magic on Sunday. Down two sets to love to Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas—a 22-year-old, almost a dozen years Djokovic’s junior, making his Grand Slam final debut—Djokovic rallied to take the title in five sets, 6–7 (8), 2–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4. It was a stirring comeback, still more evidence of Djokovic’s persistence, and he is rewarded handsomely. In addition to winning the title, he now completes the double career Slam—he’s won every major at least twice—and holds on to his No. 1 ranking for the foreseeable future, i.e., basically the end of the year, at a minimum. And he comes within one major of tying Nadal and Roger Federer.
For the better part of two hours at the beginning of the match, it looked as though Nadal had taken out Djokovic’s legs, as he was lacking in precision, balance and energy. And yet a set from defeat, Djokovic found a gear that his opponent lacked. Less than a week ago, Djokovic lost the first two sets to Italy’s teenager, Lorenzo Musetti. And as if merely annoyed, not worried, he barely dropped a game the rest of the afternoon. On Sunday, it was a bit more competitive, but Djokovic seemed more annoyed than tearful after dropping those first two sets. And by the end, the result was a formality.
Spare a thought here for Tsitsipas. For six and a half rounds, he played breathtaking tennis, combining power we always knew he had with real defense and clay-court nuance. If he was nervous showing up for his first major final, he didn’t show it. He played a fearless tiebreaker in the first set and then put Djokovic away in the second. But one set from the finish line, some combination of the weight of the occasion and his own body, which seemed to go on strike, opened the door for Djokovic. Tsitsipas called for a medical trainer to address a lower back issue and, low on energy and morale, couldn’t hold his lead. Big picture, he has to leave Paris pleased. This is another step in his incremental growth and at age 22, time is his ally. But he didn’t come for a runner-up trophy and will likely be stung—the big question is for how long—by coming within a set of winning a major, beating Djokovic no less, in the final and failing to close.
As for Djokovic, his closing skills have never been in doubt. Neither have his clay-court skills. And now he heads to the grass, which ironically might be his third-best surface. But he nevertheless arrives at Wimbledon as the defending champion. He will try to pull off the channel double—Wimbledon and the French Open—and become the first player to do so in more than a decade. He will try to equal Federer and Nadal and win his 20th major title. And he comes in with more than a little momentum. He didn’t just win the title in Paris. He seems to have won something much greater.
More Coverage From the French Open:
- 50 Parting Thoughts From the 2021 French Open
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- Mailbag: Should Federer Be Criticized for His French Open Withdrawal?