Novak Djokovic has battled from two sets down to force a fifth set against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday afternoon in the Roland Garros final.
The World No. 1 was in deep trouble as the 22-year-old Tsitsipas played near-flawless tennis in the first two sets, attacking at every opportunity and seizing the moment in his first major championship match. But Djokovic has shown his typical resilience to claw back to a deciding set inside Court Philippe-Chatrier, levelling the match at 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-2, after three hours and 14 minutes.
Djokovic has come from two sets down five times, including earlier in this event against Lorenzo Musetti. But he has never done it in a major final.
Djokovic’s Two-Set Comebacks
|2021 Roland Garros R4||Lorenzo Musetti|
|2015 Wimbledon R4||Kevin Anderson|
|2012 Roland Garros R4||Andreas Seppi|
|2011 US Open SF||Roger Federer|
|2005 Wimbledon R2||Guillermo Garcia-Lopez|
Four players in the Open Era — Bjorn Borg (1974), Ivan Lendl (1984), Andre Agassi (1999) and Gaston Gaudio (2004) — have recovered from two sets down in the Roland Garros final. The only player to accomplish the feat at another Grand Slam in the Open Era was Dominic Thiem in last year’s US Open final.
Djokovic is one set from claiming his 19th Grand Slam title and moving to within one of his great rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, on the all-time list. He can become the first player to win the Career Grand Slam twice in the Open Era. Tsitsipas is attempting to become the first Greek Grand Slam singles champion.
It has been an impressive turnaround after Tsitsipas sprinted into a dominant position without showing any nerves. The 22-year-old was in danger of losing the first set when Djokovic served for the set at 6-5, and he faced a set point at 5/6 in the tie-break. But the fifth seed played daring, attacking tennis to take control against the 2016 champion from there. The question was if he would be able to maintain his high level for the entire match.
Tsitsipas, who will climb to a career-high World No. 3 with a win, showed no frustration until the fourth game of the third set. He played courageously to save the first four break points he faced in the game, but he missed a backhand wide on Djokovic’s fifth break chance to give the top seed the lead in the set.
That served as the turning point, and Djokovic has significantly decreased his unforced errors to force the Greek to close out the final with aggression, which he has been unable to do. The top seed has not faced a break point to win the third and fourth sets. Djokovic has mixed in drop shots and played far more measured tennis to regain his composure.
Djokovic has not let out a cathartic roar like he did after beating Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals, but he settled back into a calm rhythm inside Court Philippe-Chatrier. Tsitsipas received a visit from the trainer after the third set to receive treatment on his lower back, and he also changed his shirt, which had been full of clay after an early-match tumble.
Infosys Stats – Djokovic v Tsitsipas (Through 3rd Set)
|Stat||Novak Djokovic||Stefanos Tsitsipas|
|1st-Serve Pts Won||74% (42/57)||69% (46/67)|
|2nd-Serve Pts Won||48% (15/31)||55% (21/38)|
|Return Pts Won||36% (38/105)||35% (31/88)|
|Net Pts Won||60% (12/20)||75% (12/16)|
|Break Pts Converted||25% (2/8)||38% (3/8)|
The 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion locked in after hitting a double fault long on the first point of the match. He earned his first set point in the opener at 5-4, but Djokovic found a way to squeak through a nervous 25-shot rally.
Despite dropping serve against Djokovic’s mounting pressure, Tsitsipas did not relent. He took advantage of the Serbian’s dipping first-serve percentage at the end of the set to step into the court and push the World No. 1 around the court. Until that point, the top seed’s high first-serve percentage had allowed him to cruise through service games and keep the Greek far behind the baseline, despite one point in which he stumbled while chasing a drop shot and nearly collided with court signage next to the net.
Tsitsipas crushed 18 winners in the opener and took advantage of a momentary lapse in Djokovic’s concentration at the end of the set. Djokovic laced a forehand return down the middle on his set point, but Tsitsipas stayed calm and hit a forehand winner into the open court, eliciting a racquet clap from the top seed.
Do not pass Tsitsipas. Do not collect $200.
🎥: @rolandgarros | @steftsitsipas pic.twitter.com/fWEMq7FfVS
— ATP Tour (@atptour) June 13, 2021
When Tsitsipas has been able to move closer to the baseline and take big swings, he has done well to control play and avoid making too many unforced errors. The questions was whether he would be able to maintain his impressive level for the entire match against the 18-time Grand Slam champion, who is known for his resilience.
The seven-time ATP Tour titlist capitalised on Djokovic’s lull in the first game of the second set by breaking immediately when the 34-year-old missed a forehand long. The Serbian missed a forehand in the net later in the set to give the Greek another service break, which was plenty to take a two-set lead.
The top seed was far sharper in the early stages than he was when he fell behind Rafael Nadal 0-5 in the semi-finals. But his missed opportunity to serve out the opener was critical, and his level dipped further to fall behind two sets.
But Tsitsipas made 11 unforced errors in the third set — compared to 12 for the first two sets combined — to give Djokovic life. The Serbian cut down his mistakes to begin his comeback.
These two clashed in a memorable semi-final on the Parisian clay last year. Djokovic sprinted to a two-set lead, before Tsitsipas mounted a spirited comeback in pursuit of his first major final. The World No. 1 locked down in the decider to advance to the championship match after three hours and 54 minutes.
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Overall, Djokovic leads their ATP Head2Head series 5-2 and he has won their three clay-court clashes, including a three-set victory at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia last month. Tsitsipas’ last victory against the top seed came in Shanghai in 2019.
Djokovic is fresh off one of the matches of the season, in which he battled past 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in four sets to become the first player to beat the Spaniard at Roland Garros twice. The last time he defeated Nadal here, in 2015, he lost in the final against Stan Wawrinka. Tsitsipas let slip a two-set lead against Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, but was able to regroup and blast his way into the championship match.
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History is on the line for the 34-year-old Djokovic, who is trying to keep his hopes of a calendar-year Grand Slam alive. No other player in the Open Era has completed the Australian Open-Roland Garros double twice, but Djokovic has a chance to achieve that feat, as he also won the year’s first two majors in 2016.
A victory will make Tsitsipas the youngest major singles champion since 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro triumphed at the 2009 US Open. He is already the youngest Slam finalist since 22-year-old Andy Murray at the 2010 Australian Open.
Tsitsipas defeated World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals, and he could become the ninth man in the Open Era to beat both the top two seeds at a major.