Let the reality sink in and let us take a deep breath to absorb what we witnessed at Phillipe Chatrier in the second semifinal of this year’s French Open on Friday. As we embrace the moment of truth, there are barely any adjectives worthy enough to describe Novak Djokovic’s colossal feat. In an instant classic, in what was perhaps one of the greatest matches one could ever witness on clay and at Roland Garros, the 34-year-old Serb breached the fortress as he dethroned the ‘King of Clay’ and French Open’s biggest gladiator 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2 in 4 hours and 11 minutes and in the process, took a huge leap towards winning his 2nd Roland Garros title.
Djokovic’s monumental win over Nadal is one for the history books and it might just be the beginning of Djokovic era where he stands tall as one and truly the greatest player of all time in men’s tennis history, surpassing his long-time rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Heading into this contest, Nadal was a clear favourite not only to beat Djokovic, but also to claim a record-breaking 21st Major. However, on equal terms, when they were in equally good forms, in the conditions that were favourable for Nadal’s natural clay-court game, the world #1 achieved the unimaginable as he beat the Spaniard for the second time on the Parisian clay to create a legacy of his own.
Djokovic’s victory over Nadal at this year’s Roland Garros will certainly go down as one of his most decorated victories of his career as he aims to become just the third man after Rod Laver and Roy Emerson to win all the four Majors twice. While tennis fans all around the globe can afford to indulge in the awe and euphoria of Djokovic’s marquee win over Nadal, the Serb is well aware that the job is far from over yet as he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final at Paris in a bid to conquer his 19th Major title that will help him to close in on the gap between him and his arch-rivals Federer and Nadal who are currently tied at 20 apiece.
If the second semifinal saw two veterans and the legends of the game battling their heart and soul out, the first semifinal was one for the coming men as Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, the fast rising, future superstars of the game, gave their all in a five-set thriller. In the end, Tsitsipas prevailed 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 after three hours and 37 minutes to earn his spot in the final of a Major for the first time.
The 22-year-old Tsitsipas trails Djokovic 2-5 in their head-to-head meetings so far on the ATP tour with the latter able to overpower the former in all of their clay court encounters. In their most recent meeting at Rome Masters earlier this clay season, Djokovic recorded a tight, hard-fought, sensational come from behind 4-6 7-5 7-5 victory over the young Greek. The Serb also leads Tsitsipas 2-0 in the finals and was resilient enough to prevail in five-set epic when these two met in the semifinal at last year’s Roland Garros, their only clash at any Major so far.
As far as Djokovic is concerned, the only time before this year when he defeated the Spaniard at the French Open, the Serb interestingly went on to lose in the final against Stan Wawrinka in 2015 and against Tsitsipas, who just like Wawrinka has a single-handed backhand, cannot afford any complacency this time around.
Before he met Zverev in the semifinal, Tsitsipas had not dropped a set at this year’s French Open and is expected to be relatively fresh physically and mentally amongst the two and it remains to be seen how Djokovic recovers for Sunday’s final, especially after having such an emotionally taxing encounter with his biggest rival in Nadal.
After having won titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon Open and being a finalist at Barcelona Open where he was so close to beating Nadal, Tsitsipas is having a coming of an age season on clay and his performances en route to the final at this year’s French Open are quite an indication of what could one expect from him against Djokovic as he dares to dream about winning his maiden Major in the upcoming final.
Tsitsipas, who idolizes Federer, is quintessentially an aggressive player and is one of the most consistent players amongst the younger crop of players who potentially has all the makings of a multiple Grand Slam title winner.
In the upcoming final, Tsitsipas faces his biggest test at this year’s Roland Garros as he prepares himself to embrace the Djokovic challenge. He will not only have to fight against Serb’s quality of play, but also against his opponent’s mental toughness, resilience and experience of playing at the grandest stages of the game. At the same time, the young Greek cannot let the enormity of the occasion affect his focus and rather must emphasize on executing his tactics and plans if he fancies upsetting Djokovic to lift his maiden Major title.
Djokovic, on the other hand is chasing history and is just a win away from writing legacy of his own of winning all the four Majors at least twice, something that none of his two long-time rivals have achieved. He will therefore be desperate to avoid another upset of the sort he suffered against Wawrinka in 2015. Tsitsipas certainly is an excellent mover on the court and has all the shots in the book, but can he hang in there mentally, emotionally and physically over the course of five potentially gruelling sets against Djokovic to give himself a decent chance?
In the upcoming battle of generations, can the veteran Djokovic defy Tsitsipas’ exuberance of youth to claim his 19th Major or will the Greek record his biggest win of his short career so far to carve a name for himself in the history books by winning his maiden Roland Garros title? Anticipation is building before the battle gets underway on Phillipe Chatrier in what promises to be an unexpected yet exciting final to draw the curtains at this year’s Roland Garros.
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