Novak Djokovic had a close call on Friday evening against Stefanos Tsitsipas, needing five sets to reach his fifth Roland Garros final. Now the Serbian is on the verge of history, three sets from becoming the first player in the Open Era to complete two Career Grand Slams. A triumph against Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s championship match would also give the Serbian his 18th major trophy.
“That would be [the] icing on the cake,” Djokovic said. “I hopefully will be able to play my best tennis, because that’s what’s going to be needed in order to have a shot at the trophy. But look, I am in position to be close to the trophy. I’m in the last match of the tournament, playing against the biggest rival, the biggest obstacle and challenge that you can have. This is what it comes down to. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I understand what needs to be done and how I need to prepare myself. I’m looking forward to it.”
Djokovic understands defeating the 12-time champion will be the ultimate challenge. He will play Nadal for the 56th time in their record ATP Head2Head rivalry. They have split eight previous Grand Slam finals.
“He’s definitely my greatest rival,” Nadal said. “Playing him in so many great matches, of course the past will have some effect in terms of respect towards each other, [the] motivation to get out on the court and play your best, knowing that we both have to be at our best in order to win against each other.”
For the first two sets against Tsitsipas, Djokovic was at his exceptional best. But as the Greek raised his level, Djokovic was unable to close the match. Sometimes when the World No. 1 is put into difficulty, he’ll vocally pump himself up to try to kick into another gear. He did so in the quarter-finals against Pablo Carreno Busta. But against the Greek, Djokovic didn’t do so as visibly.
“I was definitely not pleased with the way I played the finishing stages of the third and fourth sets, but I was very pleased with the way I kept my composure mentally throughout the entire match,” Djokovic said. “I did feel that even though I lost the third and fourth, I still felt like I was the better player on the court. I had more control. I just felt comfortable playing.”
Djokovic was highly complimentary of Tsitsipas, who had never previously advanced past the fourth round on the Parisian terre battue.
“Credit to him for fighting back. He just played terrific tennis, especially in the fourth set when he was facing break points. I had many opportunities to break his serve in the fourth and finish the match earlier. He’s a fighter. He’s one of the best players in the world. Deservedly so,” Djokovic said.
“Obviously he was also fighting for his first Grand Slam final. Of course, there was a lot at stake for him. He was motivated to try to turn the match around, which he did very well. But in the end I think he ran out of gas. That’s when I stepped it up, used my opportunities when they were presented in the fifth, and closed out the match in a great fashion.”
Djokovic’s Titles By Grand Slam
Some might wonder if not closing out the Greek in straight sets will have an impact on Sunday’s final. Nadal defeated Diego Schwartzman in straight sets. But Djokovic only spent 45 more minutes on court on Friday than the Spaniard.
“I’m not feeling exhausted physically so much after tonight’s match, obviously almost four hours. It was a great battle,” Djokovic said. “But I feel fine. I think a day-and-a-half will be plenty of time for me to recover. I’m really looking forward to a great battle with Rafa.”
This tournament holds special meaning for the Serbian. The Coupe des Mousquetaires was his white whale until 2016, when he finally completed his Career Grand Slam in Paris. Now, Djokovic can achieve the feat again.
“Every French Open final that I played was the match of my life before I actually won it,” Djokovic said. “It does have a certain significance and difference when I play a French Open final [compared] to any other Slam final. This is the one that I’ve won the least, so of course I am extremely motivated to try to get my hands on another trophy.”
from Tennis – ATP World Tour https://ift.tt/3lqwvp2