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French Open final preview and prediction: Stefanos Tsitsipas stands in the way of Novak Djokovic and more history


Djokovic will face Tsitsipas in the French Open final (Picture: Getty/Metro)

Novak Djokovic could be forgiven for wildly celebrating one of the most famous wins of his career over ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal but history should serve as a warning that he shouldn’t take his eye off the ball.

Djokovic, the world No. 1 from Serbia, has painful memories of knocking Nadal – who has now only lost three times at Roland Garros, twice to Djokovic – out of the tournament only to go on to lose the final to Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka.

Another man with a one-handed backhand awaits him on Sunday, the Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

An unexpected – and simply brilliant – win over Nadal has put Djokovic in an unbelievable position to enjoy the most historic season of his career.

Should he claim this title, he would become the first man in the Open Era to have won every major event twice and it will give him the opportunity to equal Nadal and Roger Federer’s 20-Slam men’s record at Wimbledon.

It’s not inconceivable now that Djokovic, who has won six of the last 10 majors, could win a Calendar Slam – a feat only Don Budge and Rod Laver have achieved.



Most Grand Slam titles (ATP)

20 – Federer
20 – Nadal
18 – Djokovic
14 – Sampras

Given it’s an Olympic year, he could even become the second player, man or woman, in history to complete a Calendar Golden Slam – where all major titles and the Olympics are won in the same year – after German legend Steffi Graf.

This may feel premature but argubaly the biggest obstacle has already been removed. Since 2005, Nadal has won 13 titles at the French Open, losing just three matches in a 16-year spell. Djokovic has twice won the other three majors in the same year.

His next opponent is a first-time Grand Slam finalist, and the first player from Greece to achieve such a feat, but by no means a pushover.

Tsitsipas, 22, is tipped to be one of the dominant forces in the game once the ‘Big Three’ of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic hang up their racquets but he has an air of impatience about him already.

He spoke earlier this year of his season goal to beat Nadal at the French Open but Djokovic has kindly taken care of that for him. As daunting a prospect as the Serb is on any surface, he is not a man who has won 13 French Open finals.

Tsitsipas, who defeated Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, two of the biggest talents in his generation, in previous rounds leads the Race to Turin and has become the dominant force outside of the Slams.

Now, after ending a run of three straight defeats in major semi-finals, he will get his first shot at the biggest prize.

His head-to-head with Djokovic doesn’t exactly make for comforting reading.



Tsitsipas and Djokovic routes to French Open final

Tsitsipas

R1: 7-6 6-3 6-1 Chardy
R2: 6-3 6-4 6-3 Martinez
R3: 5-7 6-3 7-6 6-1 Isner
R4: 6-3 6-2 7-5 Carreno Busta
QF: 6-3 7-6 7-5 Medvedev
SF: 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 Zverev

Djokovic

R1: 6-2 6-4 6-2 Sandgren
R2: 6-3 6-2 6-4 Cuevas
R3: 6-1 6-4 6-1 Berankis
R4: 6-7 6-7 6-1 6-0 4-0 RET Musetti
QF: 6-3 6-2 6-7 7-5 Berrettini
SF: 3-6 6-3 7-6 6-2 Nadal

After getting off to an impressive start in their rivalry, winning two of the first three meetings, he has since been beaten in each of the last four ties.

He can take encouragement from the most recent losses, five-set and three-set defeats in Paris and Rome respectively, but Djokovic has made no secret of the fact he thinks he has the younger generation pegged when it comes to Grand Slam events.

After fighting back from two sets down in the fourth round to beat Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic said: ‘I like to play young guys in best-of-five, because I feel even if they are leading a set or two sets to love as it was the case today, I still like my chances, because I feel like I’m physically fit and I know how to wear my opponent down.

‘I’ve won most of the five-setters I have played in this tournament and in my career, so I think that experience helps.’

Tsitsipas will hope to claim the last of his ‘Big Three’ scalps at Grand Slams, having beaten both Federer, in 2019, and Nadal, earlier this year, at the Australian Open.

He was emotionally overwhelmed after his five-sets win over Zverev in the semi-finals, tearing up as he recognised how significant the win was at home as he became the first player from Greece to reach a Slam final.

But he will have to regroup and focus on what’s ahead if he’s to have any chance of upsetting the top seed.

‘I’m really happy with myself,’ said Tsitsipas. ‘I think I’ve shown good discipline so far. I’ve been progressive.

Tsitsipas will face Djokovic on Sunday (Picture: Corbis via Getty)

‘There is the final, which is exciting. I’m looking forward on leaving my entire body on the court.’

He will no doubt have been pleased to see Djokovic and Nadal take chunks out of each other for more than four hours on Friday night, although Djokovic – who famously beat Nadal in the longest major final in history just two days after beating Andy Murray in a near-five-hour epic at the Australian Open in 2012 – is confident he knows how handle this situation.

‘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 recover abilities are pretty good, I must say, throughout my career.

‘I know what I need to do. Obviously Tsitsipas, first time in the finals of a Grand Slam, if I’m not mistaken. For him it’s a great achievement, but I’m sure he doesn’t want to stop there.

‘We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here. Yeah, I know it’s going to be another tough one. I’m hoping I can recharge my batteries as much as I can because I’m going to need some power and energy for that one.’

Indeed he will. Tsitsipas is not only an exquisite technician, with a vast array of weapons at his disposal, but he is also a terrific physical specimen who can go toe-to-toe with Djokovic.

He is, undoubtedly, capable of taking this match out of Djokovic’s hands if he plays to the best of his ability and maintains a high level. However, one senses this match will be all about experience.

Djokovic knows when to strike. He knows when to weather a storm. He knows how to handle the emotions of a big occasion.

This is a man with history in his sights, it would be a major shock to see him fail to seize it on Sunday. Prediction: Djokovic in 4.





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