In one of the most enthralling day of tennis the top ranked Novak Djokovic put an end to the insane domination of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and booked a place in the final on Sunday against Stephanos Tsitsipas who created his own history becoming the first player from Greece to reach the final of a grand slam as he nearly blew a dream start against the German Alexander Zverev before bouncing back in the fifth set of the first semi-final played in perfect conditions on a lovely Paris afternoon.
In what was a hors de ouvre contest before what was billed as Final before the final by many, the 22 year old Tsitsipas got off to the best possible start as he broke his 24 year old opponent’s serve in the second game of the match. Tsitsipas was barely troubled as he took the opener 6-3. Zverev broke early and led 3-0 in the second set before Tsitsipas in an astonishing turn of events reeled off the next seven games to a completely shocked opponent who looked clueless how he blew the second set lead in a hurry. However, the German who had won all seven previous five set matches at the Roland Garros settled into the match once he broke in the third game of the third set and seemed to have the momentum going into the decider as he won 20 out of 24 service points in the fourth set.
Zverev had three break points in the opening game but Tsitsipas rose to the occasion and saved them all and then went on to break service in the fourth game. It looked curtains for the German from there onwards but he bravely staved off five match points in the eighth game and made Tsitsipas serve out the match in the ninth game, this securing a 6-3,6-3,4-6,4-6,6-3 win in three hours and thirty seven minutes. After three consecutive semi-final losses at 2019 and 2021 Australian Open and last year’s French Open, the fifth seed from Greece made up for his countrywoman Maria Sakkari’s disheartening loss in the women’s semi-final yesterday to earn his maiden final at a slam. The leader in the race to Turin leads all players with a 39-8 record this year and will be looking for his third title of the year, having won the Monte Carlo Master’s and the ATP250 event in Lyon.
The thirteen time champion Rafael Nadal entered the match as the hot favourite against the 2016 champion Novak Djokovic whom he had routed in last year’s final and looked on course for an encore as he raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set. Djokovic held in the sixth game to stop a run of 14 consecutive games for the Spaniard who had also won the last nine games in his quarter final win over the Argentine Diego Schwartzman. Djokovic then broke in the seventh game but Nadal served out the opener for the second time in asking in just under an hour.
In 50 out of their 57 previous meetings, the winner of the first set had been victorious but in typical Djokovic style the Serb never gave up against Nadal who was hoping to overtake Federer’s tally of 20 major titles. Djokovic broke in the second game only for the Spaniard to break back rightaway. Aided by some uncharacteristically nervous play by the 35 year old Nadal, Djokovic broke again in the sixth game and then held his remaining service games to win the second set 6-3, but not before saving two break points in the ninth game.
Djokovic again got the early break but Nadal evened at 3-3 in the third set before losing serve in the seventh game to love. Djokovic then hit an easy mid-court forehand into the net at 5-4 and 30-0 and missed an opportunity to serve out the third set. Djokovic then saved a set point down 5-6 and the missed opportunity seemed to have affected the Spaniard who. double faulted on the first point of the tie-break. Nadal then overhit an elementary volley to trail 3-5 and Djokovic served out the tie-break 7-4 and led 2-1 in sets.
Nadal, who came into the match with a jaw dropping 105-2 record at Roland Garros looked in no mood to relinquish the title without a fight as he broke Djokovic in the second game of the fourth set. Once Djokovic got the break back it was virtually curtains for Nadal as the Serb reeled off six games in a row to win 3-6,6-3,7-6(4),6-2 in four hours and twenty two minutes of compulsive viewing in front of limited crowds owing to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Prediction:- Djokovic leads Tsitsipas 5-2 in their career head to head and is on the brink of becoming the only man in the Open Era to win all four slams atleast twice. Tsitsipas making his maiden final appearance played the best match of the year against the Serb in Rome. If the 22 year old can overcome early nerves if any then Djokovic who could be forgiven for thinking he won the tournament beating Nadal, will have a fight on his hands. Tsitsipas has to ensure he doesn’t fritter away any advantage in midway through the match. Djokovic has seldom lived upto reputation of pre match favourite at Roland Garros and Tsitsipas looks ready to mark the beginning of the end of the Big Three. I would pick Tsitsipas to win in four or five tough sets in a reversal of last year’s semi-final where he lost in five sets after trailing by two sets, taking into consideration he might be better rested than his 34 year old opponent.
Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic becomes only the second player from the Czech Republic to capture the women’s singles title as she beat the Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1,2-6,6-4 on Saturday in one hour and fifteen minutes. The only player from the Czech Republic to claim the ladies crown was Hana Mandlikova in 1981. Krejcikova who required six match points to beat Coco Gauff and five match points to beat Maria Sakkari, won on her fourth match point as Pavlyuchenkova hit a forehand long. The Russian who was playing her first grand Slam final in fifty two attempts had her left leg strapped but after a one sided opening set turned the match around taking the second set comfortably. Krejcikova got the decisive break in the seventh game. Pavlyuchenkova went 15-40 down in the ninth game but reeled off four consecutive points and made the Czech serve out the match. Krejcikova double faulted on her third match point but was not to be denied on her fourth match point in what was a maiden grand slam final for both the players.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: email@example.com]