Grand Slam 2021 review: How Novak Djokovic won Roland Garros
Here, Tennishead revisits the second leg of the quest for Novak Djokovic to claim the Calendar Slam as he fought to secure a second career title in Paris.
First Round – defeats Tennys Sandgren, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
- First serve percentage: 67%
- Return points won percentage: 46%
- Break points converted: 5 of 11
Upon his return to the clay in the French capital, Djokovic came up against 66th ranked American Tennys Sandgren for a fourth overall meeting.
Djokovic had dropped just one set of nine in the previous three matches, as two of the battles came at Wimbledon 2018 and the 2018 US Open respectively.
The world number one broke in the opening game of the first and second set to assert dominance over his opponent, securing a one set and 1-0 lead over the American.
Sandgren then had six chances to break throughout the second set, but failed to convert any as Djokovic successfully backed up his opening set win with a 6-4 second set. Come the third the Serb was clinical, snatching a double break to win the match in two hours on-court.
“Just overall from the later stages of [the] Rome [Masters] until now, I’m just finding my groove on the court, striking the ball well,” Djokovic said following the match. “Very pleased with the way I am feeling and playing on the court.”
Second Round – defeats Pablo Cuevas, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
- First serve percentage: 68%
- Return points won percentage: 54%
- Break points converted: 5 of 8
Next came a tour veteran for Djokovic to conquer. 35-year-old Pablo Cuevas was ranked 92 in the world and making his 38th Slam appearance.
Despite their combined experience, the two men had never met on the ATP tour. But that unknown factor played little part in how Djokovic took to the match. Despite losing his serve early in the opener, the 18-time Slam champion broke twice to gain the upper hand and claim the first set 6-3.
That was about the extent of any problems for the number one seed, as a double break sealed the second set 6-2 before just one was required at the start of the third to seal the match after a little over two hours on-court.
“I’m ready to go deep in this tournament,” Djokovic told reporters after the win.
“Hopefully that’s gonna be the case, but I’ll take it match by match, and so far the two matches that I have played have been played on a high quality.”
Third Round – defeats Ricardas Berankis, 6-1, 6-4, 6-1
- First serve percentage: 63%
- Return points won percentage: 59%
- Break points converted: 6 of 9
Another man without a win to his name against Djokovic, Lithuania’s Berankis had gone out of the 2020 French Open to Djokovic a stage earlier in the round of 64.
Having never lost a set in their three previous meetings, the world number one looked nailed on for another victory from the off. The Serb took a double break to go 5-0 up before the Lithuanian could get on the board. A consolation only for Berankis, as he lost the opener 6-1.
Djokovic took just a single break the next set to claim it 6-4, before throttling up the power to win the third set and the match with three breaks.
“I think Lorenzo [Musetti] is very nice, first of all, very nice kid, very nice guy,” Djokovic said looking ahead to his next opponent in Lorenzo Musetti.
“We did hit a lot in practice. We never faced each other, but we did practice actually this season on this surface in Monte-Carlo couple of times and other tournaments.”
Fourth Round – defeats Lorenzo Musetti, 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (2-7), 6-1,6-0, 4-0 (Retired)
- First serve percentage: 70%
- Return points won percentage: 47%
- Break points converted: 9 of 9
Another first-time meeting now for the 34-year-old against a player 15 years his junior in Musetti. While the Italian was no doubt seen as dangerous, nobody could have expected what was to come.
Musetti played admirably to hold his nerve in the first set, breaking back immediately after being broken at 1-2. A first tiebreak came for Djokovic, and it did not go well for the Serb.
Musetti surrendered the mini-break but reclaimed it for 4-4. At the third time of asking, the teen then secured the breaker. He had inflicted a first lost set of the tournament for Djokovic.
The second was a similar story, with a single exchange of breaks before eventually reaching another tiebreak. Again Musetti was strong, going up a double mini-break for 4-0, going on to 6-1, claiming it at 7-2.
Djokovic looked in a hole, could the run be over? But from there the Italian was spent. The world number one went a break up for 3-1 before winning 13 consecutive games across the third, fourth and final sets. Exhausted, Musetti was forced to retire as Djokovic survived.
“After I lost the second set and went out to change and came back on the court, I just felt different,” Djokovic revealed in his press conference. “I was a different player, with more confidence going through the ball.
“I decreased the amount of errors. Started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning.”
Quarter-final – defeats Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5
- First serve percentage: 70%
- Return points won percentage: 30%
- Break points converted: 4 of 9
A first top-10 opponent of the tournament came in world number nine Berrettini, another Italian. The two began battling during the night session in Paris, but would finish later that night in front of empty stands as the Covid curfew came in.
A tight opening set saw just a single break of serve, for Djokovic to make it 3-1. The number one gained a set lead 6-3 after 53 minutes. The second came easier for the top seed, securing a double break this time, 6-2, one set from the semi-finals.
But Berrettini would not lie down. There were no breaks in the third set, and the Italian hung tough. Despite Djokovic being two point from the win at 5-4 in the breaker, his challenger held firm to secure the set.
Again the fourth set saw no breaks all the way to 6-5 in favour of Djokovic. On the Berrettini serve, with a third match point, the Serb forced an error as he clinched the victory, letting out an immense roar towards his player box.
Next came Rafael Nadal, and that is where the focus of Djokovic’s press conference lay.
“It’s not like any other match,” he said of facing Nadal at Roland Garros. “Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge that you can have playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success in his career.
“In the final stages of a Grand Slam, it doesn’t get bigger than that.”
Semi-final – defeats Rafael Nadal, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2
- First serve percentage: 64%
- Return points won percentage: 40%
- Break points converted: 8 of 22
This was the toughest step yet. Nadal, on Court Philippe Chatrier, with the Spaniard aiming for a 14th Roland Garros title. It was a 58th meeting between the two men, an ATP record. Djokovic led 29-28, with Nadal having won their most recent battle in the final of the Rome Masters.
The first set was gruelling, as it so often is between these two men. Nadal looked set to repeat the bagel opening set of the 2020 final as he went a double break up for 5-0.
But Djokovic did not give in, fighting enough to reclaim a break. The Serb only lost it 6-3 after an hour on-court, stifling some of Nadal’s momentum. An exchange of breaks early in the next set took it to 2-2, before Djokovic broke again to go up 4-2, holding from there to level the match.
The next set was a marathon. Three consecutive service breaks from 2-2 brought the score to 4-3 in favour of Djokovic, and the Serb looked to be taking the set serving at 5-4.
But Nadal made sure the set continued by breaking again. Nadal had a set point at 5-6, 40-Ad on the Djokovic serve, but could not convert. A tiebreak was required.
4-3 on serve and Nadal took to the baseline for his serve. Following a drop shot from Nadal, the Spaniard had Djokovic on the ropes, forcing him to the back of the court and setting himself up for a put-away volley.
But, Nadal overcooked the shot to hand Djokovic the mini-break. Serving at 5-4, Djokovic won both his serves to take a two sets to one lead after a nearly 100-minute set.
Despite going past the curfew, French authorities gave special dispensation for the crowd to stay on until the end of the match. They did not want to miss this.
Nadal immediately responded to the lost set by breaking Djokovic to open the fourth. But Djokovic would roar back to secure three breaks of serve and finish the match after over four hours on Philippe Chatrier.
“Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland Garros for me,” Djokovic gushed following the epic battle.
“And top three matches that I ever played in my entire career, considering quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15+ years, and the atmosphere which was completely electric.
“For both players, a lot of support. Just amazing.”
Final – defeats Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-7 (6-8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
- First serve percentage: 68%
- Return points won percentage: 37%
- Break points converted: 5 of 16
Surely Djokovic would win it now? He had beaten Nadal in the semi-finals, a first French Open loss for the King of Clay since 2016. But the script had another twist for the 18-time Slam champion.
Both men were strong on their serves, with no breaks until 5-5. Djokovic claimed the first, before Tsitsipas broke back to stay in the set and force a tiebreak.
Tsitsipas took the advantage to go 4-0 up, but surrendered the lead to get back to 5-4 on serve. Djokovic had a set point on 6-5, but Tsitsipas held his serve twice to set up his own set point, which he took to take the lead in the match.
The Greek then backed up the lead with an immediate break at the start of the second, and another to go up 5-2. Serving it out, Djokovic was two sets down for a second time in the tournament.
But as he has shown so many times before, the Serb is perhaps the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen. At 1-2 on the Tsitsipas serve in the third, the pair played out a 17-point game, which Djokovic finally took on his fifth break point.
Not another break in the set meant that Djokovic was now just one set behind. An early double break gave him the advantage again in the fourth, holding on for 6-2.
Match tied, a decider for the title. One more break was all that was needed. As Djokovic took the lead at 2-1 and did not look back, protecting his serve until the end of the battle. A second Roland Garros title, and a 19th Slam overall.
In doing so, the Serb became the first man since Rod Laver to complete the Double Career Grand Slam, having won every Major at least twice, as well as the only man to do it completely in the Open Era.
“Of course, I am thrilled and I’m very proud of this achievement,” Djokovic expressed after the match. “I think part of the history of the sport that I love with all my heart is always something that is very inspiring and very fulfilling for me.
“I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. It probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.”
Two down, two to go. Could Djokovic achieve the Calendar Slam?
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