Djokovic wins 19th major title in Roland Garros thriller

  • Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic recovered from two-sets-to-love down in a major final for the first time in his career to earn a 19th career Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Struggling with his movement, energy levels and execution in the first two sets against Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No.1 eventually worked his way back into the contest.

Djokovic wore his inexperienced opponent down to complete a 6-7(6) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 triumph in four hours and 11 minutes.

The 34-year-old Serb becomes the first man in the Open Era to win all four major titles at least twice, joining Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver as the only other men in history to complete the feat.

And he moves to within one Grand Slam trophy of all-time men’s leaders Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, both currently with 20 – all while keeping his bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam alive.

Djokovic ended Nadal’s four-year reign at Roland Garros following an epic four-set battle in the semifinals, stopping the Spaniard in his path toward a jaw-dropping 14th title.

And by beating Tsitsipas in the final, Djokovic wins a second title in Paris to accompany his trophy from 2016.

"The atmosphere was amazing, a few days ago against Rafa and today against Stefanos. Unforgettable matches, unforgettable moments for me, for my career, for my life," Djokovic said.

"I'll definitely remember these last 48 hours for the rest of my life."

A brilliant start for Tsitsipas

On a summery day in Paris, Tsitsipas played tactically-astute tennis on the dry, lively clay.

His use of heavy cross-court forehands frequently dragged Djokovic wide, and kept the top seed pinned deep in the court. 

Djokovic looked unsure of his footing and struggled to produce his typically dynamic, athletic movement; in the seventh game he tripped and sprawled forward on the clay as Tsitsipas went on to hold for a 4-3 lead.

Tsitsipas’ relaxed, flowing game contrasted sharply with the level produced by Djokovic; the world No.1 played a nervy, error-prone service game during which he was forced to save a set point to hold for 5-5.

He then broke for 6-5, but never looked comfortable, as Tsitsipas won eight of the next nine points to surge ahead 4-0 in the tiebreak.

Djokovic worked his way back to earn a set point of his own, but Tsitsipas saved it with a forehand winner and snared the 68-minute stanza after two more Djokovic errors.

A lethargic, subdued Djokovic could barely find the court as he fell behind an early break in the second. 

Playing with increasing confidence, Tsitsipas swept through the set – he committed just two unforced errors, while Djokovic sprayed 10 – to take a commanding lead. 

Pivotal game changes everything

The match turned in a compelling fourth game of the third set.

Djokovic, looking more engaged, earned three break points against an opponent whose level had begun to drop. While Tsitsipas saved all of those break points with winners, Djokovic dug in to generate a fourth, and then a fifth – which he converted.

He consolidated that break for a 4-1 lead and suddenly Tsitsipas was struggling, committing two double faults in the next game to trail 15-30, his third-set unforced error count at this stage reading 10 to Djokovic’s three.

While the Greek managed to escape with a service hold, the momentum had swung unstoppably in Djokovic’s favour.

"Unforgettable matches, unforgettable moments for me, for my career, for my life. I'll definitely remember these last 48 hours for the rest of my life."
Novak Djokovic, reflecting on his semifinal victory over Rafael Nadal, and win in the final over Stefanos Tsitsipas, at Roland Garros in 2021.

Djokovic took the third set after two huge forehands that forced errors from Tsitsipas, and surged ahead 4-0 in the fourth, executing his game with increased sting and efficiency while Tsitsipas’ game had lost its earlier potency. 

Tsitsipas, who received treatment on his lower back at the end of the third set, got on the board with a service hold at love for 1-4. 

But a few games later, Djokovic struck a backhand winner down the line to force a fifth.

He continued his momentum into the final set, breaking the flat-footed Tsitsipas in the third game and building a 3-1 lead. 

Tsitsipas came within two points of defeat in the eighth game, but held for 4-5 to force Djokovic to serve for the title.

And in a thrilling final game, during which Tsitsipas saved one championship point with a backhand winner, Djokovic played bravely enough to do so.

Novak Djokovic celebrates his dramatic five-set victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the 2021 Roland Garros final. (Getty Images)

"(It was a) big fight out there. I tried my best," Tsitsipas said during the trophy ceremony. 

"First time playing here in the finals. I had I would say a good run and I'm happy with myself, but let's give it to Novak, because he has showed us over the last couple of years what a great champion he is, how consistent he has been.

"I hope one day I can maybe do half of what he has done."