Mission complete: Djokovic secures rare feat

 - Dan Imhoff

World No.1 digs deep to deny Tsitsipas for another slice of history at Roland-Garros

Novak Djokovic Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

As any seasoned mountaineer to have set off from Everest Base Camp can attest, scaling the world’s highest peak is only part of the journey.

The enormous physical and emotional energy to carry on, having already ticked off that gruelling feat brings many unstuck.

In Novak Djokovic’s realm, it had brought all unstuck – himself included – until Sunday on Court Philippe-Chatrier, when the Serb saw what he had deemed his sport’s equivalent through to its completion with victory from two sets down against Greek challenger Stefanos Tstisipas.

The world No.1, only 48 hours earlier, likened his defeat of 13-time champion Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier to climbing Mount Everest.

Swede Robin Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic himself six years ago were the only two who had reached that summit before, only to have fallen short at the final destination, in a subsequent Roland-Garros decider.

The only man to have earned a second shot at it on the terre battue of Roland-Garros rounded out that expedition, 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 against the 22-year-old Tsitsipas.

Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to win the four majors twice and to have come from two sets down twice en route to a Grand Slam title.

“Of course, I am thrilled and I'm very proud of this achievement. I think part of the history of the sport that I love with all my heart is always something that is very inspiring and very fulfilling for me,” Djokovic said.

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2021 trophy final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

“I couldn't be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.

“Going through a four-and-a-half battle with Rafa on his court, then bouncing back after not practicing yesterday, just coming in today with as much as recharged batteries and energy regained to fight another battle of four-and-a-half hours against Tsitsipas, who is playing in his first Grand Slam final.”

What had been mission impossible every year Nadal had taken the court in Paris, looked to have become mission improbable, at best, on Sunday, after Djokovic had conceded the opening two sets to a free-swinging opponent with little to lose.

Ever the astute observer of any slight deviation in behaviour from his rival, a half step slower, the mutterings, any marginally mistimed ball – the type that had been sailing clear for winners earlier – the Serb was at all times poised.

That moment had been building from the completion of the second set – when he returned to court refreshed and reset – until the fourth game of the third, when Djokovic finally broke to end the Greek’s 10-minute struggle on serve.

It was the turning point many had predicted it would become. Five times before he had come from two sets down to prevail, including his fourth round of this tournament against Lorenzo Musetti.

His sixth became the only time he had achieved it in a major final and took his Grand Slam tally to 19, one shy of Roger Federer’s and Nadal’s joint mark.

For the second time in his career Djokovic would turn to Wimbledon with the season’s opening two majors in his bag, halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam. And as had been the case five years ago, the prospect of a Golden Grand Slam was also alive.

“Everything is possible. I mean, definitely in my case I can say that what I've been through in my career, in my life, this journey has been terrific so far,” he said. “I've achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible for me to achieve.

“Everything is possible, and I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam. But I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third-round loss in Wimbledon. This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal.”

It leaves little time to savour one of his most fulfilling expeditions.

A sixth Wimbledon trophy and a maiden Olympic gold are the next peaks on that bucket list, journeys he is well-prepared – physically and mentally – to see through in 2021.

“You don't really have anyone to rely on. Of course, you get team support, but it's all up to you,” Djokovic said. “So if you are not able to crawl your way out from certain situations like I had today, from two sets down, that's it, the match is gone.

“That's why I feel like the mental work, the mental training, is as equally important as the physical training. I put a lot of time into that, as well. I'm really glad that it pays off.”

Novak Djokovic / Roland-Garros 2021©Cédric Lecocq / FFT