RG2021: What we learned from the men's events

 - Dan Imhoff

A 13-time champion’s reign ends at the hands of a familiar foe as a host of fresh contenders rise

Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2021, final trophies© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

In an unforgettable fortnight at Roland-Garros 2021, Novak Djokovic has made history with his second title on the clay in Paris. The world No.1 and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal put on a show for the ages, while the emerging brigade made its mark.

Here’s a look at some of the highs and lows of the full 15 days in Paris.

Djokovic creates Open Era history

The Serb closed the gap on his 'Big Three' rivals’ Grand Slam haul to just one with a 19th major on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday.

Victory over first-time finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas cemented the world No.1 as the first man in the Open Era to secure each of the four majors at least twice.

He also became the first player to defeat Nadal at Roland-Garros and go on to win the title. His run in Paris this year stands as one of his greatest career achievements from a now very lengthy list.

World No.1 ends the king’s reign

With 13-time champion Nadal slipping to No.3 in the rankings, it put the Spaniard at the mercy of the draw and as fate would have it, he fell in the same half as his great rival, Djokovic.


After handing the Serb a convincing defeat in last year’s Roland-Garros decider, Nadal looked to have the ascendancy when he held a set point at a set all in the pair’s blockbuster semi-final, before Djokovic authored one of his greatest wins in a four-hour-plus epic.

“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,” said Djokovic.

Tsitsipas steps up in moment of truth

Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was seriously knocking on the door of a breakthrough when he reached his third straight Grand Slam semi-final in Paris. Only eight months ago he ran out of steam against top seed Djokovic but against German Alexander Zverev he steadied the ship having let a two-set lead fade before delivering in the decider.

The first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final, the 22-year-old acquitted himself well against Djokovic but ultimately came up short after leading the world No.1 two-sets-to-love.


As Djokovic said during the trophy ceremony: "Knowing him [Tsitsipas] and his team, he's gonna come out much stronger from this match today and I definitely believe he's going to win many Grand Slams in the future."

Medvedev warms to clay

Given a 0-4 record at Roland-Garros before 2021, Russian No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev was the first to admit that doubts about his credentials with clay underfoot were perfectly justified.

Going some way to proving the doubters wrong, however, the 25-year-old soared into his first Roland-Garros quarter-final before running into a red-hot Tsitsipas, the player he had soundly walloped to reach the Australian Open final in February.

“The beliefs, they can change,” Medvedev said of his relationship with clay. “I don’t know. When I was young I never ate fish, like I hated it. Now I love tuna, but raw tuna.”

Daniil Medvedev Roland Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Federer a serious contender at Wimbledon

Following two knee surgeries and a longer than expected return to competition, Roger Federer was entitled to drastically lower his expectations coming into Roland-Garros.


The 39-year-old, though, put on a masterclass of fleet-footed artistry in his opening rounds before eking out a four-set triumph over Dominik Koepfer.

It prompted a sense of relief from the Swiss that his decision to come to Paris was the right one and was a promising sign as he switched his focus to the grass at Wimbledon where he chases a record 21st Grand Slam trophy.

Musetti delivers on hype

Barely an interview passes that Italian 19-year-olds Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner are not asked about each other and both gave plenty of cause for the hype when they reached the fourth round in Paris this year.

While Nadal comfortably took care of Sinner to reach the quarter-finals, it was Musetti – on debut – who really turned heads. The world No.76 upended 13th seed David Goffin and then former semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato in his first five-set match en route.

He gave Djokovic more than a few headaches when he took a two-set lead before the Serb pulled clear.

Olympic tandems in good shape

Only a month out from the Tokyo Olympic Games, a host of duos put their cases forward for selection with deep runs at Roland-Garros.

Sixth seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut survived match points in the semi-finals before going on to claim their second title together in Paris. Kazakhstani pair Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev almost had their number, too, before falling in their first major final.

Pablo Andujar and Pedro Martinez reached the last four at a Grand Slam together for the first time, but given Spain’s depth, will unlikely be called up for Tokyo, while fellow beaten semi-finalists Colombian No.2 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah will head to Tokyo with gold clearly in sight.

French future bright

For the first time in Roland-Garros history, four home hopes reached the boys’ singles semi-finals. As standard-bearers Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon enter the twilight stages of their careers it gives Les Bleus hope for the future.

In the first all-French boy’s final in Paris since 2002, 13th seed Luca Van Assche swept past 14th seed Arthur Fils in little more than an hour to become the first home champion in the event since Geoffrey Blancaneaux five years ago. It was a clean sweep for the host nation as Fils teamed with compatriot Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard to win the boys’ doubles final.

Luca van Assche, Arthur Fils, Roland-Garros 2021, boys singles final© Julien Crosnier/FFT