June 13, 2021


Let it be known that the gods of Roland Garros don't look kindly upon those who take out their king.

Back in 2009, when Rafael Nadal's 31-match win streak was shattered in the fourth round by Robin Soderling, the then-#25 was able to ride his momentum to the championship match, but lost there in straight sets to Roger Federer, allowing the legend to finally capture the career Grand Slam, the first man to do so since Andre Agassi ten years earlier.

In 2015, when a sort of struggling Rafa was ousted in the quarters by Novak Djokovic, his vanquisher was again denied the ultimate prize, this time by Stan Wawrinka. It would take another year, one in which Nadal pulled out of the event before his third round with a wrist injury, for him to complete his own Major sweep.

And today, another six years after Rafa's last loss in Paris, because appaently that's the cycle of these things, the powers that be tried their damnedest against Djokovic again. But this time their efforts weren't quite good enough.

It isn't surprising that Nole seemed to come out of the gates a little sluggish today. His semi against Nadal was widely and appropriately heralded as one of the best clay court matches of all time. The four hour, eleven minute battle featured some of the most brilliant shotmaking we've ever seen with, as one commentator pointed out, both players hitting multiple winners in every point. And while I'm still smarting from the outcome -- and might argue that it was Rafa who pulled the more awesome tricks out of his bag -- ultimately it was Nole who wore down the thirteen-time champion for a spot in the final, and it made sense he'd be a little worn down too.

And on Sunday the gods -- or Stefanos Tsitsipas, appropriately for the analogy, the first Greek to make a Major title match -- did their best to take advantage of that. The fifth seed had put together the best clay court record this season, winning 22 matches to get here and picking up two titles, including his first Masters, along the way. I thought he had a pretty good shot at winning the whole thing before play even got started in Paris, and after he took the first two sets in the final match, hoped he might just be able to pull it off.

But we should all know better than to count Nole out of any match. He converted a break in a long game in the third set and it took the wind out of Tsitsipas' sails in a big way. Frustrated he wasn't able to hold, the 22-year-old was unable to regroup, never earned himself another chance to break, and despite a couple of good gets, failed to recapture the magic of those first few hours. And after a match exactly as long as his semi with Rafa, it was finally Djokovic able to hold the trophy up high.

It takes something ultra special to overcome all the odds and pull off all that Novak did this week -- first to find the brilliance to beat Nadal on these courts and then to find the stamina to come back from two sets down against a supremely talented opponent suggests a strength not of the mortal world. The victory brings him his nineteenth Major trophy, drawing him ever closer to Roger's and Rafa's record twenty -- and with Wimbledon just a few weeks away and a real shot at winning the U.S. Open too, he might just pass them both before the year's over.

It also earns him a second Career Grand Slam -- at least two trophies at each Major. He's the first man in the Open Era to have achieved that feat and joins Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only ones to hold that honor. With stats like that it's no wonder so many are eager to have the GOAT 🐐 conversation or that Djokovic has deservedly risen to the top of the contender list. And while it might still be a little to early to lock in that decision, it's clear that Novak is in a league very few will ever reach.

And perhaps one that will ultimately be all his own.

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