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Paris • Roland Garros • French Open Men’s Finals 2021 • Djokovic|Tsitsipas

Ricky’s preview and pick for the French Open final: Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas

By Ricky Dimon

Nope…Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal on Friday night actually wasn’t the French Open final.

Should it have been? Probably.

At the same, though, treating the Djokovic-Nadal semifinal thriller as the championship match would be writing off Stefanos Tsitsipas. And Tsitsipas cannot be discounted heading into the real final on Sunday afternoon.

Although he is just 22 years old, this always seemed liked Tsitsipas’ time to reach his first Grand Slam final. After all, he came within one set of the 2020 Roland Garros title match (lost to none other than Djokovic) and reached another slam semi earlier this season at the Australian Open. That result–plus clay-court titles in Monte-Carlo and Lyon–is a big reason why Tsitsipas is the 2021 ATP ranking points leader.

If the world No. 5 seemed destined for this French Open final, that feeling grew tenfold when the draw ceremony was held two weeks ago. It placed him in a half of the bracket opposite both Djokovic and Nadal, and he has certainly taken advantage. Tsitsipas has advanced with victories over Jeremy Chardy, Pedro Martinez, John Isner, Pablo Carreno Busta, Daniil Medvedev, and Alexander Zverev. The Greek had dropped only one set to Isner before needed three hours and 37 minutes to hold off Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 on Friday.

Of course, Djokovic’s semifinal was even tougher–despite not going the five-set distance. In a showdown that won’t soon be forgotten, Djokovic battled past Nadal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 after four hours and all minutes. The top-ranked Serb preceded that result with victories over Tennys Sandgren, Pablo Cuevas, Ricardas Berankis, Lorenzo Musetti (from two sets down), and Matteo Berrettini (7-5 in the fourth).

When Djokovic said earlier this season that he would focus almost exclusively on slams, he wasn’t kidding. Prior to this fortnight, his only great result was the title at Melbourne Park. Now, following a relatively lackluster clay-court swing, the 34-year-old is once again at his absolute best. He wasn’t against Musetti and Berrettini, but he also didn’t have to be. When the ante was upped by Nadal, Djokovic put all of his chips into the center of the table.

Tsitsipas will also test him, but Djokovic has been here before against the next generation. He survived a five-set challenge by Dominic Thiem in the 2020 Australian Open final and destroyed Medvedev on the same stage in 2021.

This is another impressive stepping stone in Tsitsipas’ career, but with Djokovic on the other side of the net it will likely result in just another learning experience as opposed to ending with La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.