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Roland Garros 2021: Five things we learned

  • Matt Trollope

After 15 days of compelling clay-court drama, the 2021 edition of Roland Garros has concluded.

We reflect on the main takeaways from the year’s second Grand Slam tournament.

Djokovic now the men's 'GOAT'?

It’s a loaded question to pose, given Djokovic still trails Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the major titles tally. But with his triumph at Roland Garros in 2021, he has separated himself from his principle rivals in the men's game. 

Djokovic is the only member of the 'Big Three' to have won all four major titles at least twice, and the only one to win the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles in the same year – another feat he has now achieved twice. With his semifinal win over Nadal, he became the first player in history to defeat Nadal more than once in Paris, and the first to go on to win the title after doing so.

DJOKOVIC: "I never thought it was a mission impossible"

He extended his lead in the head-to-head series with Nadal to 30-28 and has now won seven of their past 12 meetings at Slams, after dropping the first five. He also leads the head-to-head series against Federer 27-23, including 11-6 at Slams. 

Earlier this season he also surpassed Federer as the player with the most weeks in history as the world’s No.1 ranked player.

Women’s game open as ever

Parity on the WTA tour is nothing new. But in recent years, major champions have backed up their breakthroughs with additional Slam trophies and an impressive consistency was beginning to define the top players’ 2021 seasons.  

That counted for little in what was perhaps the most surprising women’s event in the tournament’s history.

Nine of the top 12 seeds were gone before the quarterfinals, leaving Iga Siwatek as the only major champion and top-10 player remaining in the final eight. When she was stunned by Maria Sakkari, it was anyone’s guess who would come through for their first Grand Slam title.

Granted, this situation was made possible by a number of unusual circumstances. There were freak injuries to Simona Halep before the tournament and Petra Kvitova during it, ending their campaigns. There was Naomi Osaka’s unprecedented withdrawal. And there were ailments afflicting Ash Barty (in tournament) and Garbine Muguruza and Bianca Andreescu (in the lead-up), contributing to their early exits.

All of those women mentioned are Grand Slam champions.

The brilliance of Barbora Krejcikova

So too, now, is Barbora Krejcikova, who came through that wide-open draw to claim an incredible victory.

While well-known within tennis circles, the Czech world No.33 was, arguably, a mostly anonymous figure among casual fans until they discovered a wonderfully articulate, charming player with a complete game, and someone who warmed hearts as she openly discussed the ongoing influence of late coach Jana Novotna.

RELATED: Mental gains key to Krejcikova becoming champion

Krejcikova completed a dream fortnight in Paris, becoming the first player since Mary Pierce 21 years earlier to win both the singles and doubles titles.

Pierce welcomed Krejcikova to an illustrious group of players who had also achieved the feat, and the 25-year-old also joined some incredible company when she became just the fourth active player – along with Serena and Venus Williams, and Samantha Stosur – to have won Grand Slam titles in all three disciplines.

Rising stars getting closer…

Tsitsipas’ five-set loss in the men’s final means that Djokovic and Nadal continue to monopolise the majors, having won 10 of the past 11 between them.

But he came incredibly close, just as Daniil Medvedev, a quarterfinalist in Paris, did against Nadal in the 2019 US Open final. Alexander Zverev, a Roland Garros semifinalist, also fell in five sets in the US Open final the following year. Dominic Thiem stretched Djokovic to five sets in the AO 2020 final, before breaking through in New York against Zverev later that season.

Whether any of those younger guns ultimately dethrone a member of the Big Three in a Grand Slam final is unknown. 

But given this group’s talent and desire, and steady improvement, the future looks bright for the sport when those legends inevitably end their careers.

Add to this the notable performances of teenagers Lorenzo Musetti, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz in Paris, and the picture looks even rosier.

Stage magnificently set for Wimbledon

Wimbledon is now just two weeks away, with Roland Garros pushed back a week from its typical position on the calendar.

And given what transpired in Paris, there is so much more at stake at the All England Club.

With Federer and Serena Williams reaching the Roland Garros second week with little match play on their least-preferred surface, does that bode well for their Wimbledon chances?

Will the disappointments felt by the top women in Paris boost their desire and motivation on grass?

Will Novak Djokovic continue to create history and draw level with Federer and Nadal on 20 major titles?

Or will another unexpected champion – à la Krejcikova – emerge to surprise us all?

Thanks to what we witnessed throughout a dramatic French Open fortnight, it has left us wanting even more as an incredible 2021 season continues to unfold.