Joker’s wild: Djokovic wins comeback thriller to take French Open title

Novak Djokovic won his 19th career Grand Slam title Sunday, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in stunning fashion. The top-seeded Djokovic came back from two sets down to win the French Open.

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June 14, 2021 - 8:54 AM

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a backhand during an earlier match in the French Open. Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images / TNS

PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic left the court to go the locker room for a little chat with himself after dropping the first two sets of the French Open final Sunday.

Part of him worried he was too diminished and depleted to overcome that deficit against his younger, fresher foe, Stefanos Tsitsipas. And another part of Djokovic insisted he would.

Guess which side was right?

Aided by flawless serving down the stretch, a determined Djokovic summoned his imperious best and came all the way back to beat Tsitsipas 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 for his second championship at Roland Garros and 19th Grand Slam title overall — one away from the men’s record shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“There’s always two voices inside: There is one telling you that you can’t do it, that it’s done, it’s finished. That voice was pretty strong after that second set,” Djokovic said. “So I felt that that was a time for me to actually vocalize the other voice and try to suppress the first one that was saying I can’t make it. I told myself I can do it. Encouraged myself. I strongly started to repeat that inside of my mind, tried to live it with my entire being.”

After ending the match with a leaping volley, Djokovic who spread his arms, tapped his chest and crouched to touch the red clay at Court Philippe Chatrier. When he went to the sideline, he handed his racket to a boy in the stands he said had been offering advice throughout.

Once the third set was underway, Djokovic felt better and played better.

“After that,” he said, “there was not much of a doubt for me.”

Yes, his triumph went from in danger to inevitable: Djokovic did not face a break point in any of the last three sets.

Djokovic became one of three men — alongside Rod Laver and Roy Emerson — to have won each major twice. As the reigning champion at the Australian Open and French Open, he heads to Wimbledon, which starts June 28, eyeing another rare achievement: He is halfway to joining Laver and Don Budge as the only men with a calendar-year Grand Slam.

The 34-year-old Djokovic eliminated 13-time French Open champion Nadal — a challenge the Serb likened to scaling Mt. Everest — in a semifinal that lasted more than four hours Friday night.

That was only Nadal’s third loss in 108 matches at the clay-court major tournament.

Djokovic also defeated Nadal in the 2015 quarterfinals before losing that year’s final. It appeared the same fate awaited Sunday, when the 22-year-old Tsitsipas had the upper hand against a drained Djokovic.

“It was not easy for me,” Djokovic said, “both physically and mentally.”

But he eventually completed his sixth career comeback from two sets down — and second of the past week.

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