By Bob Stockton
Novak Djokovic staged a determined comeback to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 for his second championship at Roland Garros and 19th Grand Slam title overall — one away from the men’s record shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“There’s always two voices inside: There is one telling you that you can’t do it, that it’s done, it’s finished. That voice was pretty strong after that second set,” Djokovic said. “So I felt that that was a time for me to actually vocalize the other voice and try to suppress the first one that was saying I can’t make it. I told myself I can do it. Encouraged myself. I strongly started to repeat that inside of my mind, tried to live it with my entire being.”
The inspired comeback capped perhaps the most satisfying major win from the 34-year-old Djokovic, who defeated the near unbeatable 13-time Roland Garros singles champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in one of the most dramatic and well-played matches played in Paris ever.
Djokovic became one of three men, joining Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, to win each major singles title twice. As the reigning champion at the Australian Open and French Open, he heads to Wimbledon, which starts June 28, half way to the calendar-year Grand Slam, hoping to join Laver and Don Budge as the only men with a calendar-year Grand Slam. He also hope to win Olympic gold for the first time in Tokyo following Wimbledon and before the U.S. Open. If he were to win the Grand Slam in New York, it would also mark his 21st major singles title, eclipsing Federer and Nadal in the all-time lead.
The 34-year-old Djokovic eliminated 13-time French Open champion Nadal, handing Nadal only his third loss in 108 matches at Roland Garros. Djokovic also defeated Nadal in the 2015 quarterfinals before losing that year’s final to Stan Wawrinka. The only other player to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, Robin Soderling of Sweden in 2009, also lost in the final (to Federer.) It appeared the same fate awaited Sunday, when the 22-year-old Tsitsipas had the upper hand against a drained Djokovic.
“It was not easy for me,” Djokovic said, “both physically and mentally.”
Djokovic eventually completed his sixth career comeback from two sets down — and second of the past week. Djokovic — who trailed 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti two sets to none in the fourth round — is the first man in the professional era to win a major title after twice facing a 2-0 deficit in sets during the tournament.
Djokovic was steadfast in the final three sets, not facing a break point at any point.
“Suddenly just felt cold and out of it,” Tsitsipas said. “I felt like I kind of lost my game a little bit.”
This was the first major final for Tsitsipas and the 29th for Djokovic, who also won the 2016 French Open, to go with nine titles at the Australian Open, five at Wimbledon and three at the U.S. Open.
Also key: Djokovic is 35-10 in five-setters — including a men’s-record 32 wins at majors — while Tsitsipas is 5-5.
“Two sets doesn’t really mean anything,” said Tsitsipas, who was trying to become the first Greek to win a major.