| By Robbie Werdiger

 

Novak Djokovic battled back from two sets down against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday in what was a dramatic finish to a French Open that will not be forgotten. The world number one dug himself into a hole early on in the match which was partly due to discomfort from a tumble on the red clay in the first set. However, as we have become accustomed to, the Serb dug deep and found a level of tennis that few, if any, can replicate.

Djokovic handed the young Greek star a heartbreaking defeat, 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, and now with 19 Grand Slam singles titles, one behind both Federer and Nadal, the “G.O.A.T.” title appears like it is Djokovic’s to lose.

As great as Djokovic played, he was tested in tight matches by multiple opponents, which makes the title even sweeter. At times Novak appeared lethargic and out of touch with his game, but when defeat was in view, the now two-time French Open champion was patient, limited his unforced errors, found an extra jolt of speed, and tactically broke down his opponents. While Djokovic is one of the best tennis talents to pick up a racket, what differentiates him from his rivals is not always his shot-making ability, but rather his mental grit and refusal to lose, which in turn elevates his game in the most crucial moments.

In the Round of 16, Djokovic lost the first two sets in tiebreakers to Lorenzo Musetti, a 19-year-old Italian prodigy. While panic or dejection might creep in for other players as they faced one of the toughest tasks in tennis, coming back from two sets to love down at a major, the Serb remained calm, made some adjustments, and lost just one more game throughout the rest of the match.

In the next round, things got no easier for the top-seeded Djokovic against Musetti’s countryman, ninth-ranked Matteo Berrettini. The match was filled with drama, momentum swings, and big-hitting, but in the end, the 6’5” Italian was sent home after an intense four-set thriller. After the match, Djokovic let out a roar that echoed through an empty Philippe Chatrier Court as the match continued past the curfew in Paris.

The potential semifinal between Djokovic and Nadal was a talking point from the start of the tournament, and the jaw-dropping match exceeded the hype, which many thought wasn’t possible. Despite it being the 58th meeting between the two rivals, we got to witness a level of tennis beyond comprehension that followed a different script than last year’s French Open final. Djokovic, set on avenging that loss and blow to his ego, played flawless tennis and proved no feat was too large for him to overcome, handing Nadal only his third career loss at Roland Garros.

Djokovic slayed the “King of Clay” in four sets, showing a level of resilience that tests the boundaries of human emotions. After being down 5-0 in the first set, Djokovic didn’t fade away as he did in last year’s final but stayed competitive in the set and used the momentum to capture the second set. The third set was a dogfight that went to Djokovic 7-6, who matched the level of the 13-time French Open champion in what many analysts are calling the greatest set of tennis ever played. Nadal quickly recovered and got up to a fast 2-0 lead in the fourth, and right when we thought a fifth set was inevitable, Djokovic defied all odds and won six straight games, ending Nadal’s quest for a 14th French crown. The match ran over four hours, well past curfew, but the tournament and government officials made an exception to the rule and allowed the fans to witness the entirety of the historic match.

The bottom half of the draw was overshadowed by the top half, which featured all of the big three (Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal) for the first time ever at a slam. Federer, returning from two knee surgeries, showed impressive form in his comeback. The 20-time grand slam champion pushed his body to the max en route to the fourth round and decided to withdraw due to concerns of fatigue and re-injury. Federer made it clear that he hopes to reach his peak level at Wimbledon, where he held championship points the last time the tournament was played, back in 2019. Many criticized Federer’s actions, claiming a Grand Slam shouldn’t be treated like a “tune-up” event. However, if the Swiss legend manages to win Wimbledon, his decision will not be judged too harshly.

Regardless, the bottom half of the draw was filled with young talent which presented some interesting storylines. Tsitsipas was the favorite to reach the final after a stellar clay court season, and he satisfied expectations, coming within a set of claiming his maiden grand slam title. The fifth seed eked past Zverev in the semifinals, who reached the final four in Paris for the first time. In addition, Daniil Medvedev overcame his struggles on the clay and played his way into the quarterfinals, having never before gotten out of the first round at the French. 22-year-old Davidovich Fokina showcased the future of Spanish tennis in his improbable run to the quarters, and veteran Kei Nishikori proved he has some high-level tennis left in the tank after falling to Zverev in the fourth round.

The main hero of the second major of the year, however, was clearly Novak Djokovic. With Nadal and Federer at the tail ends of their careers and the younger “Next Gen" players lacking the consistency and mental strength to beat the “Big Three” at the slams, there is no telling how many major titles Djokovic can collect.

Now leading the other two in almost all categories, if Novak wins one more slam, it will be hard for “Fedal” fans to argue against his status as the greatest player this sport has ever seen. Considering the fact that in 2010 Djokovic had one slam title compared to Federer and Nadal’s combined twenty-six, the situation we find ourselves in now is remarkable. With his recent victory, Djokovic has become the only player in the Open Era to achieve the “Career Slam” twice-winning all four grand slams at least two times. Djokovic now has the opportunity to win all major tournaments in the same year and achieve the “Grand Slam,” a feat last achieved on the men’s side by Rod Laver in 1969.

 

Robbie Werdiger

Robbie Werdiger is a freshman at Georgetown University. A former standout at Horace Mann High School, Werdiger has competed on the national junior stage and has achieved USTA rankings of top 25 in the eastern section in numerous age groups. Additionally, Robbie has represented team USA at the world Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017, the third largest international sporting event in the world.