After the sheer energy, willpower and strength it took to topple Rafael Nadal on his surface and his court on Friday, Novak Djokovic was charged with returning to the scene two days later and summoning his prime form once more against the second best clay-courter of the season.
For so long though, it was reasonable to ask if this challenge was too much as his own waning energy and the sheer force of Stefanos Tsitsipas combined to leave him with a two-set deficit. But from that improbable position under the torrid stress of a major final, Djokovic pulled off the type of madness that he has made look routine for over a decade. He recovered to win 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 and his second Roland Garros title at last.
With this victory, the world No 1 has now won 19 grand slam titles and he is close enough to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's joint men's record of 20 to reach out and touch them. He is also halfway towards the grand slam once again, having won the Australian Open in February.
Still, the most impressive achievement is that he has become the first man in the Open era to win every grand slam, Masters 1000 and ATP Finals title at least twice. A unique, unparalleled accomplishment that immediately distinguishes him from his rivals.
With just over 11 years separating Djokovic, 34, and Tsitsipas, 22, this final also represents the sixth-largest age gap in the history of grand slam men’s singles finals. Men’s tennis today is a tale of the battling generations, the young vs the eternal, yet the endings at the biggest tournaments remain the same. Many can take two sets off Djokovic, but he continues to ask them the question of whether they can take three in the biggest finals, enduring all of the mental and physical battles with everything at stake. Until they can answer it, he will keep on winning.
After a high quality opening set in which both players served supremely well, it was Tsitsipas who generated a set point at 5-4, 30-40. Djokovic refused to miss in a brutal 25-stroke rally, then he broke serve to lead 6-5. Irritated with the sun in his eyes and spraying unforced errors, Djokovic struggled as he lost his serve and then trailed 2-5 in the tiebreak before winning four points in a row to lead 6-5.
What followed was a demonstration of pure resilience from Tsitsipas as Djokovic slammed two tremendous clutch returns, which Tsitsipas dealt with perfectly. He struck an excellent forehand winner off the first, then at 6-6 he neutralised Djokovic’s return with a quality defensive slice before slamming down the winning forehand. The momentum had shifted and Tsitsipas led by a set.
It would have been reasonable to anticipate an immediate response, but it initially didn’t come. Instead, Djokovic looked physically fried. He opened the second set with three unforced errors to fall down a break and as his errors flowed, Tsitsipas continued to crush his heavy, destructive forehand, finishing the set with nine winners to just two unforced errors.
But Djokovic has looked down many times in his career, and the third set witnessed the familiar sight of him working his way out of a hole as he pounced at 2-1 to break serve. What followed was a titanic game in which Tsitsipas saved an endless string of break points with a winning drop shot, two booming overheads and tremendous defence until Djokovic finally wore him out and elicited a backhand error.
Tsitsipas immediately attempted to reassert himself, but Djokovic was now fully present. As his intensity rose, Djokovic moved to serve out the set and he escaped with just four unforced errors.
Tsitsipas took a medical timeout at the start of the fourth set for a massage on his lower back and when he emerged from it, the roles had reversed. Tsitsipas was lethargic, his movement laboured, as Djokovic handled his business with unrelenting focus, even as he tempered his cheers to preserve his energy. Tsitsipas sprayed two unforced errors in his opening service game of the set and he spent the remainder of the set struggling uphill. He finished it with just three of 19 points on Djokovic’s serve. - Guardian