Novak Djokovic shows champion’s mentality as he comes from two sets down to win the French Open


There are those who cast Novak Djokovic as the pantomime villain of tennis, in which case they should be telling Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: ‘He’s behind you!’

Another indefatigable comeback saw him win the French Open final, putting Djokovic on 19 Grand Slam titles versus the 20 of his two great rivals.

This, however, might go down as the one that effectively seals the outcome of the cosmic competition between the greats. Roger and Rafa may fear that it’s all over — and it probably is now. 

Novak Djokovic came from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final

The 34-year-old is now on 19 Grand Slam titles - one behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

The 34-year-old is now on 19 Grand Slam titles – one behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Even with only a fortnight this year between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Djokovic will head to SW19 with every chance of drawing level.

And he warned he would not let up in his quest to overhaul Federer and Nadal. ‘I never thought it was a mission impossible to reach the Grand Slams of these guys,’ he said. 

‘I’m not there, but I’ll keep on chasing. I’m going for the title at Wimbledon. Of course I am. I’ve had great success in the last couple of Wimbledon seasons that were played.’

Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in four hours and 11 minutes — 60 seconds longer than it had taken him to overcome Nadal on Friday night.

The young Greek discovered there is no harder man to put away over five sets and the 34 year-old Serb now becomes the first player in the post-1968 Open era to have won all four majors at least twice.

For a fleeting moment, it looked like the 22 year-old from Athens was about to blow up the long-established order in the game, which he may himself dominate in future.

Yet that is to underestimate Djokovic and overestimate his tendency to go through strange fluctuations of energy over the course of a long match, as he did in the second set.

The champion said: ‘I just tried to stay with him in the third and find my window, and after the third set I knew I could do it. I felt like he was starting to overthink, I got into his head.’

Djokovic, who displayed the same resolute calm he had shown against Nadal, added: ‘The atmosphere was amazing. Unforgettable matches, unforgettable moments for my career, my life. I’ll definitely remember this last 48 hours for the rest of my life.’

At Wimbledon he might be more vulnerable to a big server on the grass who enjoys a hot day, but the Grand Slam format allows him to ride out all but the heaviest of storms. At 34 his wiry, elastic physique shows no signs of rebelling.

This was a second gruelling contest in 48 hours, a tournament comparable to the 2012 Australian Open when he beat Nadal in a marathon final after a four hour, 50 minute win in the semi over Andy Murray, when both were 25.

That sort of contest is what has taken a toll on the heavier-set Scot, coming back this week at Queen’s, but his direct contemporary seems immune.

It looked like it might not be Djokovic's day after he wasted the chance to serve for the first set

It looked like it might not be Djokovic’s day after he wasted the chance to serve for the first set

Stefanos Tsitsipas then won the tiebreak before dominating the second set against the Serb

Stefanos Tsitsipas then won the tiebreak before dominating the second set against the Serb

Djokovic then rallied before Tsitsipas needed treatment on his back before the fourth set

Djokovic then rallied before Tsitsipas needed treatment on his back before the fourth set

However, Djokovic had now built up significant momentum and forced a decider in Paris

However, Djokovic had now built up significant momentum and forced a decider in Paris

There was a point early in the fifth set when Tsitsipas played an exquisite drop shot, only for his opponent to sprint in like Usain Bolt and flick a winner with no angle to play with. It was astonishing.

Tsitsipas, to give him credit, fought until the very end but could not take advantage even when Djokovic showed the first signs of tightening up. 

He was bleeding just too many errors against his more conservative opponent. On the podium at the end, Tsitsipas looked and sounded desolate, even though he is sure to get far more chances on a stage like this.

One day, when Djokovic is extinguished, he ought to be a serial winner of the biggest events. 

Later he said: ‘What I learned is that in order for the match to be finished you have to win three sets and not two. Two sets doesn’t really mean anything.’

Of his level going down in the third set, he observed: ‘I felt like I kind of lost my game a little bit. It’s very sad, it was a good opportunity.’

And a single break was all he needed in the fifth to claim his second crown at Roland Garros

Tsitsipas pushed Djokovic all the way after becoming the first Greek to reach a major final

Tsitsipas pushed Djokovic all the way after becoming the first Greek to reach a major final

There was no doubt Djokovic played more consistently after he came back out for the third set, having looked relatively listless during the second.

Tsitsipas had shocked him by hanging in during the opener and forcing a tiebreak with a late break of serve. His flowing, single-handed backhand had held up well, and he brilliantly took the tiebreak 8-6 after facing a set point.

Djokovic concentrated on breaking that flank down in the last three sets and it paid off. While the crowd were willing on the younger man in the decider, he never really looked like recovering from conceding an early break of serve.

The Serb matches his physical toughness with a similar resilience between the ears — the two are related — and served it out a the first time of asking.

Earlier on Sunday, women’s singles champion Barbora Krejcikova became the first player since Mary Pierce to win the doubles as well, partnering fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova to victory over Iga Swiatek and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.



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