Novak Djokovic continued to rewrite history Sunday in Paris. Going for his 19th Grand Slam title and a second Career Slam, the favored Serb found himself down and out behind two sets to none to an in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the French Open. But for the second time in a week, the Serb rallied from 0-2 down stunning the Greek for a historic 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory in four hours, 11 minutes.
The win makes Djokovic the only man in the Open Era to win two Calendar Slams. And it moves him within one of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time Grand Slam leaderboard.
“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.”
Djokovic had the opening set on his racquet. After breaking at 5-all, Djokovic got into it with the chair on the changeover about time violations which was not given to him but to Tsitsipas in the previous game.
That discussion seemed to drop Djokovic’s focus. Serving for the set with Tsitsipas deflated, he lost three straight points on serve and got broken at 15. In the tiebreaker, he let go of the first four points and despite battling back, it was 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. Djokovic appeared weary and lifeless, gasping for any kind of energy.
Tsitsipas would run away with the second, closing in on that first Slam.
In search of something, Djokovic would leave the court and like he did against Lorenzo Musetti after going down two sets to the teen, he would return a new man. In a long 2-1 game, Djokovic broke and finally there was life. Not soon after, he had a set.
Djokovic would break again to start the fourth as Tsitsipas sought treatment for a back or leg injury. Now it was a match.
About 90 minutes after Tsitsipas was feeling good up two sets, it was suddenly level going into a fifth, and Djokovic had all the momentum and all the experience.
Tsitsipas, though, would avoid a 0-30 hole to start on his serve. But Djokovic would secure the final break of the match in the Greek’s very next service game and that was all he needed.
“Second set I dropped physically and mentally I think a little bit,” said Djokovic who tallied 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.”
Djokovic, who had never won a Slam final from two sets down, improves to an impressive 5-1 in 5-set Slam finals. He also becomes the first player since 1949 to author two 0-2 comebacks en route to a major win. And he’s not revealing how he did it.
“My guardian angels are there,” Djokovic said. “I have my special corner. It’s a secret. I can’t reveal the secret. It’s been working for me pretty well.”
Tsitsipas was the first Greek player to make a Slam final, but it was 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 can use the difficult defeat as fuel for the future.
“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 favorite. If he wins there, he would tie Federer and Nadal and then go into New York with a shot at 21 and completing the Calendar Slam.
“Everything is possible,” said Djokovic. “Definitely in my case I can say that what I’ve been through in my career, in my life, this journey has been terrific so far. I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible for me to achieve.
“I never thought it was a mission impossible to reach the Grand Slams of these guys. I mean, I’m not there, but it’s one less. But they are still playing. Obviously they’re playing great, especially Rafa with his level.
“I’ll keep on going. I’ll keep on chasing. At the same time I’ll keep on paving my own path, which is my own authentic path. We all three of us have our own journeys, and that’s it.”
The chase resumes in two weeks.
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June 13th, 2021 at 9:13 pm