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2021 French Open: Men's final preview

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Roar Guru
12th June, 2021
6

And then there were two.

The 2021 French Open will reach its climax when Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas battle it out for the coupe des mousquetaires in the men’s championship match on Sunday evening (Monday morning AEST).

It means tennis immortality will have to wait after Rafael Nadal, who suffered just his third ever loss at Roland Garros when he lost to Djokovic in a gripping semi-final on Saturday morning (AEST).

The Spaniard had entered this year’s tournament with tennis history at his mercy, eyeing a record-extending 14th French Open title and a record-breaking 21st major men’s singles title, which would’ve seen him overtake Roger Federer on the men’s major leaderboard.

But his shot at staking his claim to the greatest-of-all-time debate will have to wait for at least another month, and for just the fourth time since his debut at Roland Garros in 2005 the 35-year-old will leave Paris empty handed (he also withdrew mid-tournament in 2016 due to injury).

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Nadal won the first set 6-3, but Djokovic hit back to level the match at a set apiece before claiming the third in a tiebreak 7-6 (7-4).

After that, French President Emmanuel Macron waived the 11pm curfew, which was in place due to coronavirus restrictions, so that the spectators who had paid to watch the two tennis gladiators would be permitted to stick around all the way to the end.

The Spaniard broke then consolidated for a 2-0 lead to start the fourth before Djokovic claimed the final six games without reply to secure a four-set victory and end the Mallorcan’s tournament a match short of what would’ve been his 14th French Open final.

By winning, Djokovic not only handed Nadal his third loss at the tournament but also became the first man to beat him more than once at Roland Garros, having also won in straight sets in the quarter-finals in 2015.

It was also the first time the undisputed king of clay had lost in the semi-finals of his pet tournament and the third time he’d lost a major semi-final in Europe – after two semi-final losses at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019.

The only other man to send the 35-year-old home before the championship match was Robin Soderling in 2009. The Swede went on to reach the final, where he was defeated by Roger Federer, who won his then-record-equaling 14th major title and first at the French Open.

Rafael Nadal

(Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

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To the match at hand, Novak Djokovic will be aiming to create some history of his own. He has the chance to become the first man in the open era to claim a double career grand slam.

The Serb joined contemporaries Federer and Nadal by initially completing his grand slam set at the 2016 French Open, where he defeated Andy Murray in the final after several years of being denied by the Spaniard (2012-14) and Stan Wawrinka (2015).

Like Federer, Djokovic has found it tough going at Roland Garros, mostly because of Nadal’s dominance, which has for the time being been put on hold.

But now the 34-year-old has the chance to write his name into the record books with a second French Open title, which would see him become the third man after Nadal and Gustavo Kuerten to win multiple titles at Roland Garros since the turn of the century.

Prior to his win over Nadal he had won his first three matches in straight sets before finding himself in deep trouble in the fourth round when he trailed Italian upstart Lorenzo Musetti by two sets to love and was staring down the barrel of an early exit.

However, he was able to climb out of the canvas, winning the next two sets to level the match and then led 4-0 in the final set when Musetti retired due to injury.

He then defeated another Italian, ninth seed Matteo Berrettini, who was the beneficiary of Federer’s injury-enforced fourth-round withdrawal, before defeating Nadal in the semi-final to advance to his sixth French Open final, all of which have come in the past decade.

Novak Djokovic lines up his shot

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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Awaiting him in the championship match will be Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has become the first man or woman from his country to reach a major final.

In his semi-final, which preceded the Djokovic-Nadal thriller, the 22-year-old took a two-set lead against German sixth seed Alexander Zverev before he dropped the next two sets to be forced into a fifth and deciding set, which he won 6-3.

Prior to that the Athens native won four of his five lead-up matches in straight sets, including defeating second seed Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals and ending the Russian’s chances of becoming world No. 1 post tournament.

He also dropped the first set in his third-round match against John Isner before serving his way out of trouble, securing a four-set win.

Not only has Tsitsipas become the first Greek man or woman to reach a major final, but he has also become the youngest man to reach the French Open final since a 22-year-old Nadal did so in 2008. That year, the Spaniard destroyed Roger Federer in the final 6-1, 6-3, 6-0.

Reaching the final at Roland Garros has seen another consistent season continue for the Greek, who came from two sets to love down to defeat Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in February and claimed his first masters title in Monte Carlo in April.

The challenge of facing Novak Djokovic in a major final now awaits, and it’s one that he will take head-on as he attempts to create his own piece of history by becoming the first person from his country to win a grand slam singles title.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece

Stefanos Tsitsipas. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

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Now that you’ve got the background info above, it’s time to crunch the all-important numbers below.

Novak Djokovic [1] (SRB) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas [5] (GRE)

Sunday, 13 June, at 11:00pm (AEST), Court Philippe Chatrier

Head to head
All matches: Djokovic 5-2
At the grand slams: Djokovic 1-0
In finals: Djokovic 2-0
Last meeting: Djokovic won 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 – quarter-finals, 2021 Rome Masters
Last meeting at a major: Djokovic won 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 – semi-finals, 2020 French Open

Novak Djokovic’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Tennys Sandgren (USA) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
Round 2: defeated Pablo Cuevas (URU) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
Round 3: defeated Ricardis Berankis (LTU) 6-1, 6-4, 6-1
Round 4: defeated Lorenzo Musetti (ITA) 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 ret.
Quarter-final: defeated Matteo Berrettini [9] (ITA) 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5
Semi-final: defeated Rafael Nadal [3] (ESP) 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2

Stefanos Tsitsipas’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-1
Round 2: defeated Pedro Martinez (ESP) 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
Round 3: defeated John Isner [31] (USA) 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1
Round 4: defeated Pablo Carreno Busta [12] (ESP) 6-3, 6-2, 7-5
Quarter-final: defeated Daniil Medvedev [2] (RUS) 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5
Semi-final: defeated Alexander Zverev [6] (GER) 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3

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Stats that matter
This is Novak Djokovic’s 29th grand slam final and sixth at the French Open, while this is Stefanos Tsitsipas’s first grand slam final.

Djokovic is aiming to become the first man in open era history to complete a double career grand slam with his second French Open title. He previously won at Roland Garros in 2016 by defeating Andy Murray in four sets in the final.

He is also aiming for his 19th major title, which would bring him to within one of the joint record held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 major titles each. Had it been Nadal in this position, he would’ve been aiming for a record-breaking 21st major title.

Should Djokovic win, he will have the chance to join Federer and Nadal on 20 major titles at Wimbledon, which begins later this month.

Tsitsipas is the first man or woman from Greece to reach a major final. He is the tenth different opponent to face Djokovic in a major final after Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kevin Anderson, Juan Martin del Potro, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev.

Of the nine different opponents mentioned above only Wawrinka (twice – 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open) has not lost to Djokovic in a major championship match.

Tsitsipas is aiming to become just the 12th different man since Federer won his first title at Wimbledon in 2003 to win a major title (after Federer, Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro, Murray, Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Thiem).

This will be the 44th consecutive major title to be won by a European man, dating back to Federer at the 2010 Australian Open. This is also the ninth consecutive all-European major men’s final dating back to the 2019 Australian Open (Djokovic versus Nadal).

There has not been a French Open five-set men’s final since 2004 when Gaudio came from two sets to love down and saved a match point to defeat Guillermo Coria in the championship match.

No man has ever won the French Open title after defeating Rafael Nadal en route to the final. In 2009 Robin Soderling lost to Federer in the final, and in 2015 Djokovic lost to Wawrinka in the final.

Prediction
Novak Djokovic in four sets.

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