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 - Simon Cambers

Join us on this tactical deep dive into the Roland-Garros men's singles final match-up

Novak Djokovic meets Stefanos Tsitsipas in the men’s singles final at Roland-Garros on Sunday, where the the Serb will chase a second title on the clay in Paris and a 19th Grand Slam crown, while the Greek bids for success in his first major final.

Here’s a tactical breakdown of how it might pan out.


The Tsitsipas serve versus the Djokovic return

When it comes to the return, in Djokovic, we’re dealing with the ultimate master, the depth he gets on his returns so good and so consistent that the advantage of the server is often neutralised immediately.

If Tsitsipas wants to win the match, chances are he will need to serve close to his best. Djokovic has been winning 40 per cent of points on his opponent’s first serve, compared to 33 per cent for Tsitsipas, but both have been exceptional when returning the second serve, winning 56 per cent of points. On his own serve, Tsitsipas has the advantage, winning 60 per cent of points on his second serve to Djokovic's 55 per cent.

Tsitsipas has to get forward to win

As he had done in his first five rounds, Tsitsipas showed in the semi-finals that when he looks to come forward, he’s even more effective. Against Alexander Zverev, he won 24 of 33, or 73 per cent, which is outstanding, and his overall average is 77 per cent.

His technique is good, but it is as much what coming forward does for his state of mind. Having the intention to get to the net, or pounce on a short ball and move forward when the opportunity arises also helps to clear the mind, which will be important in his first Grand Slam final.

First set crucial for Tsitsipas’ hopes

If Tsitsipas is going to win, then the chances are he will have to win the first set. When the two men met in the semi-finals last year, the Greek played brilliantly to force a fifth set from two sets down but then he had nothing left.

Djokovic is an unbelievable front-runner in Grand Slams, winning 264 matches and losing just five when he wins the first set.

The last time he won the first set in a Grand Slam match and lost it was at the 2016 US Open, when Stan Wawrinka outlasted him. Wawrinka also did it in the Roland-Garros final in 2015, while Rafael Nadal, Wawrinka again and Jurgen Melzer are the only others to have managed to come from a set down to deny him in a Slam.

Who will win the battle of the drop shot?

Last year, the drop shot was the key shot of the entire Roland-Garros, the softer, cooler conditions helping the ball to die even better. Despite the warm, fast conditions this year the drop shot has been in use just as much.

In the semi-finals, Djokovic did 26 drop shots against Nadal, while Tsitsipas hit 16 against Zverev. And while their success rates were relatively low, the drop shot is worth more than just the point itself; it puts doubt into the opponent’s mind.

Djokovic probably plays it better than Tsitsipas, but in general, it will depend who is in the best position in the court, since it’s much easier to play them from there than deep behind the baseline.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Mental battle will decide the winner

Djokovic is bidding for his 19th Roland-Garros title and has seen pretty much everything there is to see on a tennis court and experienced all the feelings associated with Grand Slam finals again and again.

For Tsitsipas, it will be a first, and how he handles the occasion could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the match. If he settles quickly, he will have his chances and he is likely to have at least half of the crowd on his side. The Roland-Garros fans appreciate his all-round skills and perhaps pull for him after the defeat of Nadal, the 13-time champion.

Tsitsipas is a sensitive, emotional player but he has looked remarkably calm throughout this year’s event. Expect Djokovic to look to dominate early but if Tsitipas can weather the storm, he will be in with a shout.

Novak Djokovic / Demi-finale Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT