Novak Djokovic won his 19th Grand Slam title after coming back from two sets to defeat Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final.
Top seed Djokovic, 34, was in big trouble before rediscovering his energy to win 6-7 (6-8) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4.
The Serbian’s greatest experience shone with the waning fifth seed Tsitsipas in his first Grand Slam final.
The win puts Djokovic in a major title behind the men’s record held jointly by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
After defeating Nadal in an epic semi-final on Friday, he said, “They have been a few unforgettable moments for me in my life and career. I will definitely remember the past 48 hours of my life.”
Djokovic, who previously won Roland Garros in 2016, became the first man to win all four Grand Slams twice since the full professional era began in 1968.
The world number one will have the chance to move to 20 titles with his top rivals Nadal and Federer when he defends his Wimbledon title later this month.
After Tsitsipas saved one championship point with a tense forehand on the line, Djokovic kept his cool to make his second attempt four hours and 11 minutes later with a header.
His expression remained emotionless as he shook hands with Tsitsipas, before exploding in an obsessive roar in front of the area where his parents, wife Jelena and coach Marian Vajda were partying.
Tsitsipas was a picture of the devastation sitting in his chair and his head wrapped in a towel to hide the full extent of his feelings.
Djokovic offers another lesson to the younger generation
After Djokovic and third seed Nadal tied in the same half of the men’s singles, he presented the strong prospect of a new name in the Grand Slam final from the other side of the draw.
Tsitsipas was already likely to be that man, having racked up more match wins than anyone else on the ATP Tour in 2021 and achieved success on clay with titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon.
The question that has long been asked – and continues to be asked – is whether the younger generation can translate tour-level talent into success on the old guard on the biggest stage ever.
The five-set coordination is long and hard on the body and mind in two weeks. Time and time again, Djokovic has proven that he has the physical and mental ability to withstand even the most talented opponents.
At first, Djokovic seemed to feel the effects of Friday’s intense semi-final victory over 13-times champion Nadal.
Exhausted and annoyed by the bright Paris sun, he struggled with his serve and was unsure of his shots as he trailed by two sets.
However, as history has shown, it was foolish to write off his name.
In his last 16 match against young Italian Lorenzo Musseti, Djokovic battled back from two sets behind for the fifth time in his career and showed signs he could do the same against Tsitsipas after a bathroom break before the third.
The pressure was expressed on a fifth break point when Djokovic took Tsitsipas’ serve to lead 3-1. Suddenly, the momentum completely shifted.
Djokovic remained largely calm with his hits back and accurate rhythm, which helped him ease into the fourth set and put him in control of the decider.
Djokovic’s extraordinary effort to beat Nadal would have been of no use if he had lost to Tsitsipas in his most important match.
Another break early in the decisive match gave him the opportunity to serve the championship, and with more than four hours on the clock, he survived a slight shake-up to shatter Tsitsipas’ dreams.
He made Tsitsipas wait for his first Grand Slam title
After winning the ATP Finals at the end of the season in 2019 and his first Masters title in Monte Carlo last month, Tsitsipas has already won some of the sport’s most important titles.
Of course, the Grand Slam is a different matter entirely. After losing his first three semi-final matches, the 22-year-old was from outside Athens competing in his first major tournament.
It came in where Tsitsipas said he dreamed of playing as a child, and in the first two sets he seemed unfazed by the enormity of the occasion.
Tsitsipas played with confidence and aggression as he looked on the right track to become the first Greek player to win a Grand Slam title.
With that, the momentum completely swayed, and suddenly, from once being an image of calm, Tsitsipas seemed understandably nervous.
Signs of his frustration showed up as he hit his racket on the mud and muttered angrily to himself, unable to shake off the annoyance and rediscover his former levels as Djokovic headed toward victory.
“It was weird because my rhythm, my shots and my movement were perfect – then I got cold and got out of it. It was hard to re-acclimatise,” said Tsitsipas, who needed treatment on his lower back at the end of the third set.
“I lost my game a little bit. I really wish I could understand why things like this happen.”
Although it was a painful defeat for Tsitsipas, the prospect of an eventual Grand Slam success seems very likely.
Djokovic used his court interview to assure his younger rival about his future.
“I can talk about what he’s going through and understand how difficult it is to lose a Grand Slam final,” said Djokovic, who lost his first three French Open finals.
“These are the matches and the kinds of occasions that you learn from the most. He will come out stronger and I think he will win many major tournaments in the future.”