(Reuters) — Novak Djokovic captured his second French Open title as he recovered from being outplayed for two sets by Stefanos Tsitsipas to win 6-7(6) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 on Sunday.
Djokovic’s seismic semi-final win over 13-times champion Rafa Nadal looked like being in vain as an inspired Tsitsipas won the first two sets to stand on the brink of becoming Greece’s first Grand Slam champion.
After failing to convert a set point in an enthralling 72-minute opener full of brutal rallies, and then crumbling in the second set, Djokovic looked drained.
His hopes of banking a 19th Grand Slam title looked bleak but he rediscovered his mojo in the nick of time to turn the match around in emphatic fashion.
The 34-year-old, who won his first French crown in 2016, rattled through the third and fourth sets as Tsitsipas, playing in his maiden Grand Slam final, lost his intensity.
Fifth seed Tsitsipas valiantly tried to dig in at the start of the fifth set as the shadows spread across a sunlit Court Philippe Chatrier. But, having left so much perspiration on the red clay in the past week, Djokovic remained steadfast.
There were nerves as he served at 5-4, netting an easy volley and then seeing a Tsitsipas backhand flash by him on championship point. But Djokovic knocked off a volley to end the contest after four hours and 11 minutes.
In moving just one behind the record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer, Djokovic also became the first player in the professional era to win each Grand Slam title at least twice.
“It was again an electric atmosphere. Nine hours of tennis in less than 48 hours,” Djokovic said on court.
“It’s not easy; physically and mentally it was very, very difficult for me, these three days. I believed in my capacities and in my game. It’s a dream come true.”
Tsitsipas, 22, looked forlorn as he slumped in his chair, having fallen short of striking a blow for the next generation trying to loosen the grip of the old guard.
“It was a big fight out there, I tried my best and did as much as I could,” he said.
No one can deny Djokovic earned his 19th Grand Slam title the hard way. Not only did he inflict only a third ever Roland Garros defeat on Nadal, he also came from two sets down to beat Italian Lorenzo Musetti in the fourth round.
Having also won the Australian Open this year he is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam and will be favourite when the focus switches to Wimbledon later this month.
For Tsitsipas there was no easing in to his first Grand Slam final. He saved two break points in his opening service game, one with a backhand and one with an ace.
He settled quickly, however, marking out his territory with his backhand looking rock solid.
Favourite Djokovic was thrown off his stride when he took a heavy tumble chasing down a drop shot at 3-3 and the Serb was in trouble at 4-5, framing a forehand high into the stands to hand Tsitsipas a set point.
The players traded backhands but Djokovic produced a clever angle to fend off the danger.
He then served for the set at 6-5 but produced a poor game and a tiebreak was needed to separate them.
It was Djokovic who looked to be feeling the effects of his battle with Nadal as he double-faulted on the way to falling 4-0 behind.
But he regrouped and produced a sensational drop volley at 3-5 before forging 6-5 ahead only to see his set point whipped away by a fizzing Tsitsipas forehand.
Djokovic then shunted a backhand wide to hand Tsitsipas a second set point and this time the Greek took advantage as Djokovic’s forehand misfired.
There was a hint of despondency about Djokovic and Tsitsipas sensed it, dominating the second set after breaking early. Djokovic netted a forehand to fall 2-5 down and offered scant resistance as Tsitsipas held to take a two-set lead.
Then the backlash began. The Serb began striking the ball more aggressively and closer to the lines and engineered five break points in an energy-sapping fourth game — eventually converting for a 3-1 lead when the Greek missed a backhand.
It proved a pivotal moment as Djokovic carried the momentum into the fourth set with Tsitsipas, who needed treatment on his lower back, starting to fade, dropping serve twice.