*Djokovic (6)6-7 2-6 2-1 Tsitsipas Again, Tsitsipas thinks Djokovic has gone long, circling where he thinks the mark is; again, the umpire thinks to the contrary and Djokovic shakes his head disapprovingly. He loves rules, after all. Anyhow, a terrific wrong-footing forehand gives Tsitsipas 30-all, and if he can find a return here he’s bang in business. A return to a second serve! But this time his forehand lets him down and a fine one from Djokovic – we’ve not seen many – gets them sat down again.
Djokovic (6)6-7 2-6 1-1 Tsitsipas* A forehand winner followed by a ninth ace gives Tsitsipas 30-0, but then Djokovic finds a glorious forehand return on the stretch for 40-30. We’ve not seen much of that today, and a serve out wide followed by a clean-up forehand extinguish hope as soon as it was kindled.
*Djokovic (6)6-7 2-6 1-0 Tsitsipas For Tsitsipas to play like this in his first major final is very impressive; he’s not been at his best, but he’s been solid, and his solid – embroidered with the occasional ripper – is brilliant. Djokovic holds to 15.
“Looks like Djokovic is going to need one of his legendary bathroom breaks at the end of this set, to recalibrate himself,” tweets @Mysteron_Voice.
You can’t underestimate the healing powers of a good slash.
Tsitsipas is so relaxed out there now, playing his game. Djokovic, on the other hand, looks exhausted and out of ideas – but we know what he can do, so this isn’t over.
Tsitsipas wins the second set to lead 7-6(6) 6-2!
Djokovic (6)6-7 2-6 Tsitsipas* Here we go. Djokovic, who looks pretty forlorn out there, lands a return on the line; Tsitsipas circles a mark, the umpire has a look, and says it’s in; 0-15. But three Djokovician errors follow, then an ace down the middle, and oh my absolute days! We’ve been waiting for about three decades, but are the big three about to be usurped?
*Djokovic (6)6-7 2-5 Tsitsipas Tsitsipas reads a second serve and absolutely rips it down the line for 15-all; tellingly, Djokovic doesn’t chase it even though he had a chance of getting there, and when he tries a drop next point, Tsitsipas runs it down and caresses a glorious flick into the empty bit of the court. AND HAVE A LOOK! An error from Djokovic gives 15-40 – it quickly becomes 30-40 – and what a point this is coming up. But it’s a squib, Tsitsipas’ forehand clipping the net and leaping wide; deuce. No matter. He wrests control of the rally with a backhand, then unleashes a wrong-footing winner, into Djokovic’s backhand corner as he scurries away from it to the centre. Djokovic then nets a forehand, and this set is nearly over!
Djokovic (6)6-7 2-4 Tsitsipas* The rallies have been much shorter the last few games, but we have a longun to start here, again dominated by Tsitsipas’ forehand, and Djokovic flails with a desperate drop that hits the net. Earlier, we were discussing how he tends not to target a particular aspect of his opponent’s game in order to keep them guessing, but it might be time to examine how Tsitsipas’ backhand stands up under pressure because at the moment the match is going as well as he can possibly have dreamed. He holds to love.
*Djokovic (6)6-7 2-3 Tsitsipas Djokovic came from 2-0 down against Musetti, but this is a very different affair. Tsitsipas is in great shape, has great shots and, most of all, he’s ready: his game is there, his body is there, his mind is there. Djokovic is, though, holding comfortably now; can he force a break-back opportunity?
Djokovic (6)6-7 1-3 Tsitsipas* I’m not sure how he does it, but Djokovic always manages to look poor on the court – I mean, just look at this rig. No doubt as a consequence, Tsitsipas’ forehand is dominating the match at the moment, and he holds to 15.
*Djokovic (6)6-7 1-2 Tsitsipas Tsitsipas needs to make this count because Djokovic isn’t currently at it. He does, though, hold to 15, which gets him on the board in set two.
Djokovic (6)6-7 0-2 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas will know these are the moments of his life. He’ll never have experienced anything like this but he’ll have visualised it every day for years and years. I’ve no idea how you cope with this kind of thing but oh my god, at 0-15 Tsitsipas hangs in the rally, Djokovic botching an overhead and allowing him to leap into a backhand retort. Even then, though, Djokovic should do more with his forehand, not hard enough or deep enough into the forehand corner, but even so, though, Tsitsipas’ response is superb and too good, walloped at the laces; he’s enjoying this, but will need to get by deuce if he’s to consolidate … and does at the first time of asking, a loopy forehand onto the line sealing the deal. This is extremely intense now.
*Djokovic (6)6-7 0-1 Tsitsipas It really did look like Djokovic was doing his usual in that set, finding his best tennis for its key moment. But when serving for it he dropped to 15 and, as we discussed, the man with the bigger shots took the breaker … before racing to 0-40! Djokovic saves the first break point … but then goes long with a forehand on the second! Tsitsipas is in tsexcelsis!
That was such a good breaker, fluctuations, winners and, if we’re being real, the better outcome for the match we’re hoping to see. Once Medvedev lost the opener in Australia he was finished, but here, Djokovic is in a match.
Tistsipas takes the first set 7-6(6)
Djokovic (6)6-7 Tsitsipas This is bigger than Sam Allardyce is this, this is, is this – if Djokovic wins it, it’s hard to see a way back but if Tsitsipas wins it it who knows – and he responds brilliantly to a brilliant Djokovic return to earn his second set point at 6-7 – and he takes it! The return goes in, a big forehand follows, and Djokovic can only thrash wide!
Djokovic 6-6 (6-6) Tsitsipas A double from Djokovic gives Tsitsipas the mini-break at 0-2, and after a succession of forehand he immediately snatches another with a tremendous backhand down the line. That was a brilliant, terrifyingly gruelling point, and it’s soon 0-4; Djokovic then forces his way into things at 2-4, Tsitsipas slipping in the process and now wearing half the court. But what a forehand he finds next up, topspun on the run into the backhand corner for 5-2! Djokovic, though, is not handing this over and yanks the second mini-break back; this next point is crucial! And it’s Tsitsipas in control, with time and space to pass, Djokovic marooned at the net! But he mishits his pass, Djokovic tickles a volley off the frame … and it clips the net-cord then flops over! Tsitsipas has had big chances to take this set, but is now serving at 6-5 down … and have a look! A second serve out wide, a monstrous, colossal forehand clean-up … and even Djokovic is moved to applaud to show us how lovable he really is. It’s 6-6!
*Djokovic 6-6 Tsitsipas Tsitsipas gets a little lucky, a great forehand allowing him to come in for the put-away … but Djokovic guesses the right side … only to net his pass! He then nets a drop for 0-30, and this could be the match right here! Tsitsipas makes another return, Djokovic goes long, and here come three break-back points! The first is saved via first serve, forehand and perseverance … but a colossal forehand from Tsitsipas means we’ve got ourselves a breaker! Djokovic, meanwhile, seems to have some kind of problem with his right eye – he’s blinking a lot.
Djokovic 6-5 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas looked to feel that game physically – a bad sign if so, not necessarily for this set but considering what it takes to beat Djokovic over the stretch. A nasty little forehand from the Serb, taken from behind his back when behind in the rally, elicits an error for 30-all, and he then dangles Tsitsipas a chance to hit a backhand winner down the line … and it goes into the top of the net! Here we go! Another longish rally follows …and Tsitsipas misses a forehand! Djokovic will now serve for the set!
*Djokovic 5-5 Tsitsipas Now then. Djokovic sends Tsitsipas nashing over to the backhand corner and all he can do is fling a racket at it, setting up the simple put-away. But Djokovic nets and in the context of this match, 0-15 is a chance – all the more so when a forehand spinning harder than Alastair Campbell makes it 15-30. Naturally, Djokovic retorts with an ace down the middle, but another excellent forehand which might just catch the line, shooting off the court, raises set point! Now then! And what a rally follows, a brutal succession of groundstrokes that Tsitsipas controls … until Djokovic finds an oblique backhand cross-court that renders all that preceded it irrelevant, closing out in short order thereafter.
Djokovic 4-5 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas is now holding comfortably too, and he shows the gamut of his game in making 40-0 with an ace, a forehand winner and a volley. But what a rally comes next! Djokovic tries a drop – it’s a good one – but again, Tsitsipas runs it down, flicking a terrific response along the net. Djokovic does brilliantly to reach it then force a forehand around the net post, but Tsitsipas gets his feet into position and carts a winner into the open court.
*Djokovic 4-4 Tsitsipas Generally I’d favour the player with the bigger serve and bigger shots in a breaker – Djokovic’s record in them isn’t great this year and he lost one to Berrettini the other night. But Tistsipas is struggling to put him under any kind of pressure … until a long forehand gives him his first point on a Djokovic first serve and 40-30. It makes no difference, the big forehand to iffy backhand finishing the game in short order.
Djokovic 3-4 Tsitsipas* After a service winner to start, Tsitsipas comes in off a backhand slice and reads Djokovic’s drop, sending one of his own into the empty part of the court; that’s beautifully done, and I wonder if we’ll see him try that more often. Well, he tries part of it when, at 30-15 and during what I think is the longest rally of the match so far, he’s yanked into the net, finding a deft drop that Djokovic chases after and can’t flick back over the net; he then clatters into the clay when his foot grips instead of sliding. There’s a brief pause, but then Tsitsipas closes out and we’re getting to that point Calvin emailed about earlier. Can yerman find his best form when he needs it most?
*Djokovic 3-3 Tsitsipas A lovely disguised drop, sliced cross-court on the backhand, gives Djokovic 15-0 and he rushes through the game to hold to love, sealing it with an ace. He’s only had to hit one second serve so far!
Djokovic 2-3 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas has Djokovic scurrying to hither and yon, before extinguishing his misery with a slam-dunk smash. We’re reaching that elusive point at which both players are playing well simultaneously, but as I type that, Tsitsipas goes long with a forehand at 30-15. How are his nerves? Well, he clatters down an ace then quickly closes out and it feels like we’ve set a pattern of easy holds now. This set looks likely to be settled by an isolated error or a breaker.
*Djokovic 2-2 Tsitsipas The precision of Djokovic’s groundstrokes is something else, and he races to 40-0 before giving Tsitsipas a look at his first second serve; he lays his first drop-shot and that’s 2-2.
Djokovic 1-2 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas sends Djokovic scurrying out to the forehand side, then bangs a forehand of his own into the empty space. He follows up with an ace, then pulls the same trick again, and though an error invites Djokovic into the game, a further ace ushers him out its back door. It’s warming up.
*Djokovic 1-1 Tsitsipas Tsitsipas has the feet going now, a forehand down the line swaying wide but coming at the end of a decently-constructed point. He can’t build on it though, Djokovic holding to love.
Djokovic 0-1 Tsitsipas* Tsitsipas opens with a double but plays his way into the match next point, a rally that ends on a Djokovic error. Tsitsipas, though, doesn’t have his feet going yet and whips a forehand wide for 15-30; even when he takes the next point with a forehand winner, he swings so hard he turns himself round. Another Djokovic error then raises game point, but a backhand winner down the line takes us to deuce and when Tsitsipas can’t convert a further opportunity – Djokovic finds a backhand winner – he’s forced to deploy one of his own to save break point. Already, this feels like a crucial game, and when Tsitsipas doesn’t put everything into a clean-up forehand, Djokovic chucks his racket at a moon-ball that lands on the sideline and eventually leads to him winning the point. So Tsitsipas finds an ace, then another, then another! Goodness me, what a start that was!
“Friends of mine don’t like Joker,” emails Petr Walker. “I do. I hope and believe he will win all four this year.”
He doesn’t make it easy, it must be said, but I agree he’s got a serious chance of a grand slam this term. That would be one of the all-time sporting achievements, especially as the final leg would put him out on his own as the, er, winningest men’s player of all-time.
“To be fair, Kafelnikov also won the Australian in ’99,” reminds Gregory Phillips. “I really hope Tsitsipas wins here, and if he does, Djokovic will have failed to win this tournament in either of the two years in which he beat Nadal. That feels …. odd.”
Yes, trudat – my mistake. And you’re right, that would be extremely odd – at least Federer got it done when Soderling took Nadal out for him, though he didn’t have to contend with a firing Stan.
Tsitsipas is now a regular at the business end of slams, but this is his first final. I doubt he’ll be daunted, but as Daniil Medvedev found in Melbourne, Djokovic can play so well it makes no difference. I guess the difference is Tsitsipas has more and better shots; against the better players, Medvedev is mainly hoping his consistency will come through.
It’s funny how the French Open has changed in recent times. When I was growing up, players who got nowhere near other titles could win – Gustavo Kuerten, Yannick Noah, Michael Chang, Andres Gomes, Sergi Brugera, Thomas Muster, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Gaston Gaudio and Albert Costa have all won in Paris. That’s totally changed now – the next new champ here will win elsewhere too.
I don’t think it was until I started GBGing tennis that I fully grasped how brutal a game it is, constant shuttles, effort and skills without the breaks you get in other sports. When the top players get to it, the only comparable endeavours are boxing and MMA.
“I’m not the freshest guy right now,” Djokovic notes in his VT, then notes that he’s no stranger to winning epic semis and finding a way to resolve the final. “I need to lave my whole body on the court,” muses Tsitsipas.
The women’s final yesterday was great, and so was Barbora Krejcikova’s interview. She was coached and mentored by the late Jana Novotna who, just before she died told her to win a major, and here we are.
On a more granular level, Calvin says: “Djokovic is so good at changing direction. He never lets a player hit two of the same shot in a row and will just do what he usually does: make a lot of balls, try a few drop shots, then be solid as granite if it gets close. Normally, players would focus on Tsitsipas’ backhand, but I don’t think Djokovic will as he likes to change direction all the time. As for Tsitsipas, it’s tough to say what he’ll do coz there are no real weaknesses to exploit. But I think you’ll see a lot of cross-court angled forehands to open the court. He’ll have to take risks. He won’t want to get into a mundane baseline battle.”
For more insight of this ilk, you can find Calvin here.
So how might this match go? Our resident coach, Calvin Betton, gets in touch: “Djokovic is the slight favourite for me, but not by as much as some people think. Djokovic has has already done it many times and Tsitsipas hasn’t, which is the main factor, but if Tistsipas plays 9/10 in the key moments, he’ll win. That’s a big if though – he’ll have to hit winners at the back end of each set, under pressure.”
It feels weird to begin a tennis report by talking about football, but nevertheless that’s where we are because what happened to Christian Eriksen yesterday had far wider resonance. In the maelstrom of love, joy and buzz that we get from watching athletes flog themselves for our delectation, it’s easy to forget the toll, sacrifice and danger that make it possible – especially when we factor in the financial factor. But the reality is that, irregardless of its rewards, sport is a phenomenally taxing endeavour, confiscating youth, anonymity and family time– a privilege, yes, but also a pain.
And few are more that way inclined than tennis, especially at Roland Garros. This afternoon, two physical and mental freaks will tear about in the heat of the summer for anything between two and six hours, then pack up their suitcases, head to the next place, and do it all over again. There are few words more misused and abused than awesome, but Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas are every bit of it and then some.
Naturally, Djokovic is favourite for the 19th major that would put him just one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all-time men’s list. The latter’s awesome mastery means that only one of those has come on clay – in 2016, when Nadal withdrew injured. But after seeing him away on Friday in one of the most awesome matches ever – of anything – we can be sure that it’ll take something very special to stop him.
Thing is, Tsitsipas is not just special but a superstar. He has all the shots plus some he hasn’t invented yet, underpinned by a natural drive, flair and temperament – even though he lost a two-set lead in his semi, you still knew he’d win. But being a superstar isn’t just about hitting a ball with a racket. It’s hard not impute the kind of person someone is from the way that they play, and Tsitsipas is everything his tennis says he is: an obviously and straightforwardly top bloke. Add to that how beautifully he speaks, his musketeer aesthetic and a half-rhyming name full of consonance, assonance and sibiliance, and we have the world’s next great sporting hero – but only if he can win something big. This should be spectacular.
Play: 3pm local, 2pm BST