Djokovic’s Roland-Garros Triumph Was A Win-Win

Novak Djokovic, (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/FFT)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic rewrote tennis history with his come-from-behind 6-7 (8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas to win his second Roland-Garros men’s championship and 19th Grand Slam trophy overall on Sunday evening. His victory was a triumph that combined physical and mental resilience.

By winning, the 34-year-old Djokovic moved to within one major of equaling Roger Federer, 39, and Rafael Nadal, 35, for most majors won in men’s tennis history. Federer and Nadal each have 20. He also became the first man during the Open Era – and just third man overall, joining Roy Emerson and Rod Laver – to win each of the four majors (Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, US Open) at least two times.

During his post-match interview with international media, Djokovic was asked to reflect on the significance of that achievement.

“Of course, I am thrilled and I’m very proud of this achievement,” Djokovic said. “I think part of the history of the sport that I love with all my heart is always something that is very inspiring and very fulfilling for me.

“I couldn’t be happier And more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.”

Djokovic described the challenge of going through a more-than-four-hour battle two nights earlier against Nadal, winning 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2, then bouncing back after not practicing on Saturday and facing another battle that lasted four hours and 11 minutes against Tsitsipas. He also pinpointed the turning point, in which he said that in a “talk” he had with competing voices ringing in his head after he left the court following the second set to change his clothes. One voice said he couldn’t win, while the other insisted that he could.

“I strongly started to repeat that inside of my mind, tried to live with it with my entire being,” Djokovic said.

When he returned, it was like Djokovic was a new player. “After that,” he said, “there was not much of a doubt for me.”

Afterward, Djokovic sought out a young boy, who sat in a court side seat near Djokovic’s bench, yelling encouragement and strategy throughout the entire final.

“He was actually giving me tactics as well,” Djokovic explained, breaking into a big smile. “He was like: ‘Hold your serve. Get an easy first ball and then dictate. Go to his backhand.’ He was coaching me, literally.”

As a gesture of thanks and token of his appreciation, Djokovic gave the boy his tennis racquet.

Whether by divine intervention or pure chutzpah, Sunday’s final was Djokovic’s to lose or win. He beat Tsitsipas on the court, and by rewarding his biggest fan on Court Philippe-Chatrier, he won in the court of public option on the Internet, too.

Vajda: Djokovic ‘picked it up just at the right moment’

Marian Vajda, the longtime coach for Novak Djokovic, called his protege’s Roland-Garros title victory a “fantastic win.”

Vajda was asked how Djokovic was able to mentally and physically handle the grind of playing a difficult five-set match – especially after he came back from being down two-sets-to-none. He said: “I think Novak is ready to play five sets. He’s physically ready, mentally ready. He has so many matches, those kinds of matches, he played so many five sets here. …

“I think overall if you are ready for that, that you are going to play five sets, because it’s possible. … He picked it up just at the right moment. I think his mind was set up for [him] to win it, to win the Grand Slam. This helps him a lot to overcome always when he’s in the difficult moments.”

Can Djokovic complete the calendar Grand Slam this year? “I think it is possible,” Vajda said. “He loves to play to in Wimbledon and the US Open. … As you win one time, then you get the confidence for the next time.

“As much as Novak is healthy, and he’s healthy right now, he’s in great shape. I think he has the ability to win the Grand Slam for this year. I’m pretty sure.”

Vajda said that looking ahead, Djokovic’s priorities are Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.

“Obviously, his goal and our goal is to win the Olympics and then win the Grand Slam. That would be the absolutely top of this year,” he said. “But it’s still far away from us. We have to still focus on the next one.

“Overall, he’s set up for this year. His priority is really set up like Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open. I think that says it all.”

Bencic, Cornet among first day winners at bett1Open

No. 5 seed Belinda Bencic and No. 63 Alizé Cornet were among the first-round winners at the WTA 500-series bett1Open in Berlin Monday. The tournament is the first of two WTA 500 events on grass leading up to Wimbledon, which starts in two weeks.

The World No. 12 Bencic from Switzerland defeated 167th-ranked German qualifier Jule Niemeyer, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, in the featured match on Steffi-Graf Stadion, while Cornet of France easily beat No. 79 Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 6-3, 6-1, thanks to converting five of 12 break-point chances, to advance against No. 3 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada.

“It was my first official match on grass in the past two years,” Cornet said during an-court interview after her win. “It’s like weird to get back to a surface after such a long time, especially against a player like Amanda [Anisimova], who plays really fast. I think I was pretty solid overall.”

Meanwhile, Bencic hit 10 aces and 28 winners to 34 unforced errors. She converted three of six break points and benefited from Niemeier’s 36 unforced errors. Bencic outpointed Niemeier’s 96-93 to move into the second round against either Petra Martic of Croatia or Asia Muhammad of the United States.

“I knew [Jule] was a great opponent; I knew she was capable of great tennis,” Bencic said on court. “She’s playing her best tennis right now. I was expecting a tough match. Obviously, on grass for the first time is very difficult. I tried to fight and play with what I have. I’m glad I won.”

Other Monday winners: No. 34 Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated 108th-ranked Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya, 6-3, 6-2, and No. 28 Madison Keys beat 149th-ranked qualifier Magdalena Frech of Poland, 6-3, 6-4.

Three seeds – No. 6 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, No. 7 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 8 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic – are all in action on Tuesday. Top seed and World No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka will face Keys in her first match later this week.

• No. 3 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia and No. 8 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic advanced to the second round of the WTA 250-series Viking Classic Birmingham on grass in Birmingham, Great Britain. Vekic scored an easy 6-1, 6-3 win over British wild card Francesca Jones while Bouzkova defeated No. 62 Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The tournament’s top seed, Elise Mertens of Belgium, faces Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia on Tuesday.

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• Roger Federer following his first grass-court match in two years at Halle: “We’re all in the same boat. Everyone else hasn’t played on the grass either for the last couple of years. My goals for Wimbledon are clearly quite high. But if it doesn’t work out in Halle, I have another week of practice.”

• When France’s Alizé Cornet was reminded during an on-court interview Monday that she had played in Berlin in 2008, back when it was a WTA clay-court tournament, she laughed and said: “So, it was here? I was wondering. Oh, that’s crazy. Thirteen years later, I’m back!

“You know, I couldn’t recognize [the stadium] because it’s such a long time ago and it was on clay. But I remember, I really liked this tournament at that time. I’m really happy that Berlin is organizing a tournament, again. I love the city. It’s been a while since I played in Germany. I’m really happy to be here.”

What they’re writing’s Steve Tignor takes a look at “How do Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer Stack-up, Post Paris?”