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French Men’s final 2021 • Novak Did His Dream • He Won Each Slam Twice • Djokovic Makes History

By Alix Ramsay

He has done exactly what he wanted to do: Novak Djokovic has made history. The sort of history that his great rivals in the Big Three could not make their own – he is the first man in the Open Era to win the career Grand Slam twice over.

More than that, he did it by beating the greatest clay court player the game has ever seen on Friday – and then coming out less than 48 hours later to beat the best player of the season so far. Djokovic trounced Rafa Nadal in four sets and four-and-a-bit hours on Friday and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday.

On Friday, we all wondered: would that four-hour-ish battle with Rafa deplete the world No.1? Would the 6ft 4ins Greek god be empowered by his win over Zverev and the thought of reaching his first grand slam final?

But, in the end, the drama of Friday did not change things that much. The young guns would not get what they wanted.

Novak Djokovic kept every nerve and sinew under tight control on Friday to beat Rafa Nadal (as he had done 29 times before), and on Sunday, facing Stefanos Tsitsipas, he used every shred of his experience to beat the 22-year-old interloper to achieve his goal.

The strangest thing about the final was Djokovic’s demeanour: subdued for most of the match (more of which later) and, later, in triumph.

After more than four hours of tension and sweat to reach another historic milestone is his career, did he rip his shirt and shriek to the heavens (think back to previous Australian Open finals)? Did he sob huge tears (think of his 2016 French Open victory)? No. He did none of the above and just looked to the heavens and smiled, gave a brief roar to his box and then awaited the presentation ceremony as if nothing had happened.

Djokovic is a truly remarkable player. He now has 19 grand slam finals to his name; he is poised behind Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in history and is ready to match or overtake them. He feels he has age on his side and that by the time he hangs up his racket, he will be known as the greatest player that ever lived. And he may well be right. But Sunday’s final still did not sit well.

The No.1 served like a demon at the start of the match. He landed 11 of 12 first serves – and was not beaten on that solitary second serve. And then he wavered.

He let a few first serves escape him; he fell over and almost did himself serious damage as he just missed sliding into an advertising hoarding. He thwacked a smash into the net. He was looking ropey. He broke serve. He was broken back. He was down in the tiebreak and then, after winning five out of six points in that decider, he still lost the set.

Tsitsipas took charge in the second set. The Greek is tall; he is built like tank – he has power in abundance. But he also has touch. He can leather the ball; he can feather the ball. And for all his height and bulk, he moves like lightning. All of that won him the second set.

At the same time, Djokovic was looking, as the Scots say, wabbit. Feeble. Out of sorts. Or as the Londoners say: bloody knackered.

After the second set, Djokovic left the court for a “comfort break”. He came back five minutes later in fresh undies and outer wear and many signs that he had had a shower (his hair was sodden). He was a new man. All that “oh, woe is me; I am exhausted” was forgotten. He stepped up to the baseline and ripped the French Open title from Tsitsipas’s grasp.

That he did it is a sign of his greatness; that he did it using the tactics of the “spaghetti legs” of the 2015 Australian Open final or even (whisper it only) of the “torn muscle” of this year’s Australian Open final is up for debate. But it is really not a good look.

In the final knockings of the final, Tsitsipas was the warrior and Djokovic was passive but safe. Tsitsipas was utterly spent but he fought. He fought until his legs would not move any further.

Djokovic, ever the wily campaigner, waited for his foe to make a mistake. And he got his reward. And now he has made the sort of history that his rivals cannot match.