Stakes couldn't be higher for Djokovic and Tsitsipas

 - Chris Oddo

History is on the line in Sunday's Roland-Garros final where the world No.1 takes on the fifth-seeded Greek

Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Sunday’s Roland-Garros men’s singles final will be historic on many levels.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic, fresh off his thrilling victory over Rafael Nadal, will bid to become the first man in the Open Era to win each of the four Grand Slams at least twice.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, already the first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final, will bid for his maiden major title – against an 18-time Grand Slam champion. 

The Greek is aware that to win, he’ll have to make the ultimate sacrifice. 

“I'm looking forward to leaving my entire body on the court,” No.5 seed Tsitsipas said after his five-set semi-final triumph over No.6 seed Alexander Zverev on Friday. 

Djokovic, the 2016 Roland-Garros champion, will carry heightened confidence after achieving what he called his greatest victory in Paris on Friday night. 

“Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland-Garros for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career, considering quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years,” he said. 

Facing Djokovic will be a heady challenge for Tsitsipas. He owns a 2-5 lifetime record against the 34-year-old, which includes a five-set defeat in the Roland-Garros semi-finals last autumn

Patrick Mouratoglou, who has mentored Tsitsipas since 2015, and who worked with his father Apostolos to create his current team, which features Frederic Lefebvre and Jerome Bianchi, says that it is a challenge that the Greek will fully embrace. 

“Yes, he has experience beating the best players in the world, yes he believes in himself and he knows he can do it,” the Frenchman says of Tsitsipas.

“This is going to help him for sure. He won't have any doubt about his ability to win, which is extremely important, but on the other hand it's his first final and this is going to be very emotional for him, and this is going to be one of the two biggest challenges of the day. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Pauline Ballet/FFT

“The second challenge will be called 'Novak' - the first one will be called pressure of playing your first Grand Slam final.”

Facing Djokovic on any occasion is a daunting task, but trying to tackle him in a Grand Slam final, just two days after he has achieved one of his greatest personal victories? Make it monumental. 

“For me Novak is a bigger challenge than Rafa, because when Novak is super confident he's almost unstoppable,” Mouratoglou stated. 

The world No.1, who became the first man in history to notch two Roland-Garros victories over 13-time champion Nadal on Friday, will be contesting his 29th Grand Slam final on Sunday, and his sixth at Roland-Garros.

Novak Djokovic fans, Roland-Garros 2021, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Despite the emotions – and fatigue – that he’s experiencing after his four-hour and 11-minute victory over the Mallorcan legend, he believes he’ll be ready to come back and finish what he started in Paris. 

“It's not the first time that I play an epic semi-final in a Grand Slam and then I have to come back in less than 48 hours and play finals,” he said. “My recovery abilities are pretty good, I must say, throughout my career.” 

Tsitsipas, who needed three hours and 37 minutes to defeat Zverev on Friday, can take comfort in the fact that he owns two lifetime wins over Djokovic. He also pushed the Serb to five sets last autumn in Paris - no small feat. 

Mouratoglou says the 22-year-old will have to be ready for a physical grind in their eighth career meeting – and first final. 

"I think we're going to have a lot of rallies,” he said. “A lot of long rallies between two of the most physical guys on tour – they are incredibly well-prepared, they are both super fit, they both have a lot of shots possible in their games.”  

Djokovic is wary of the challenge Tsitsipas presents. He has watched the budding star blossom ever since he hit the Grand slam stage in 2017, and he knows he'll be facing a confident, dangerous adversary. 

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

“For him it's a great achievement, but I'm sure he doesn't want to stop there,” Djokovic said.  “He's in great form. We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here. I know it's going to be another tough one.” 

Whether Tsitsipas can pull the upset or not, there’s no denying the fact that his ascent has been impressive. He has won 16 of his last 18 matches at the majors, and always seems hungry for more. 

"I think his level has really improved and he completely deserves to be in that final,” Mouratoglou added. “Now the next step is going to be to win it, whether it's this one or another one, because I think if he's able to win one or two, he's going to be extremely difficult to stop in the future."