So here we are. After his stunner Friday beating Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stands all of three sets from some serious, serious tennis history as he takes on the confident and hungry Stefanos Tsitsipas tomorrow in the French Open final.
What’s at stake? Not just No. 19 for Djokovic, but also a second Career Slam, another Australia-French double and the Calendar Slam stays in play.
In my mind, a win tomorrow almost locks him to pass Roger Federer and Rafael for the all-time Grand Slam title lead. Because after Paris, he’s going to win at least two of the next three Slams (Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open) and they are not. It’s my belief that Federer and Nadal are done. With the young guys gaining strength by the day, Roger and Rafa are going to need a lot of help to add to their total.
So Novak has another 12 months at most to clean up before the kids come knocking for him. And they will.
You could make the case that at the forefront of that charge is Tsitsipas. The flashy Greek has all the shots, size, strength and speed you could hope for when creating the model tennis player. All the tools are there. And he’s getting tougher. He’s learning on the job.
Yesterday, Stef dropped the third and fourth sets, got down a few break points to start the fifth but didn’t panic. For someone just 22, that’s darn good.
But the difference here is 12 years and a lot of experience. This is Tsitsipas’s first Slam final, Djokovic’s 29th. And while I think Tsitsipas is best equipped of the youngsters (like Zverev, Medvedev, even Thiem) to handle this occasion because of his free-flowing nature, I just think this is one of those moments Djokovic has been waiting years for.
I even think Tsitsipas understands the historical implications. If Djokovic loses, he can still get past 20, but he’ll never get a second Career Slam (not with Nadal, Thiem, Tsitsipas next year), and the Calendar Slam chase would be over for him for good.
On the flip side, if Tsitsipas, at age 22, can steal this, he could parlay the win into a couple more by the end of next year, maybe even a 2022 run for No. 1. So it could really send him on his way. He’ll win some anyway, but a title tomorrow would jumpstart his run and give that much more hope to the younger generation.
So Djokovic is going to feel some rust from the Rafa win at the start, but I think he gets Tsitsipas on the defensive and gets the crowd going, the fist pumping, and maybe even a shirt rip, or two. Whatever he has to do to get his serve on track, and then his game will follow.
Tsitsipas is going to show up and going to fight. In a tight one…
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
Of all the outcomes, I don’t see Tsitsipas crushing Djokovic. The reverse could certainly happen, or Tsitsipas wins in four or five. He’s got the game, the moxie, and already the big match wins. But with so much on the line, Djokovic has to rise up to this challenge. It’s all on his racquet right now. For the first time, he controls it.
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