Congrats Novak Djokovic; A review of the 2021 French Open

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By Ritesh Mishra
By Ritesh Mishra

Congrats Novak Djokovic for winning the French Open 2021. It was the 19th Grand Slam tournament win for the World Number 1 and he became the 1st player in the last 50 years to win all the four Grand Slam titles at least twice.

I present to you my detailed review of the tournament where I shall be detailing the upsets, the comebacks, classic matches which went the distance, the journey of the top 4 seeds, the journey of the four semi-finalists, upcoming talents, and finally a brief review of the semi-finals and the final.

Upsets

I start with upsets since nothing is more engrossing than an underdog getting the better of fancied and higher-ranked opponents

1st round upsets, 35-year-old Spaniard Pablo Andujar, in his 16th year on the tour had his 1st win over a top 5 player when he upset 2-time finalist Dominic Thiem in 5 sets. It was his 1st win ever after losing the 1st two sets and just his 6th top 10 win. Earlier in the year he had defeated World Number 8, Roger Federer, in his comeback match but defeating Thiem was an awesome achievement.

The second biggest 1st round upset was 7th seed Rublev losing to 41st ranked German Jan-Lennard Struff. The 1st two sets were taken by Struff before Rublev took the next two. However, Struff kept his composure and served big at the right time to close out the match in which he served 25 aces. This was his 1st top 10 win in a Grand Slam.

The young Canadian, F.Augur Aliassime, just 20, also lost to the 37-year-old Italian veteran Seppi in 4 sets. In another 1st round upset, Goffin lost to the highly-rated Italian teen Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets

2nd round Upsets; 29-year Swiss-Finn Henri Laaksonen, currently ranked 150th and with a highest ranking of 93, 4 years ago, took out the consistent 11th seed Bautista Agut in 4 sets. This is the biggest win of his career and the 1st time he is entering the 3rd round of a Grand Slam event. He had earlier lost in the 2nd round of the AO and the US Open, once each, both times in 2019.

Swede Mikael Ymer, a former Wimbledon boys finalist (lost to Opelka in that final) defeated the mercurial Gael Monfils in 4 sets, including an electrifying bagel in 1st set.

37 year German, Philipp Kohlschreiber took out 24th seed Aslan Keratsev, in 4 sets on his French Open debut. Keratsev was one of the hottest players on the circuit and his defeat was indeed a surprise, especially after his classy win in the 1st round where he had won with ease. Yet another upset was German Dominik Koepker taking out Taylor Fritz in 4 sets as well.

3rd round upsets; Davidovich Fokina is a rare tennis player who has hired a marathon runner in his coaching team. Well, it seriously paid off, in this 3rd round classic, as he defeated the highly rated Casper Ruud in a 3rd round match which was unique as Ruud won 2 sets, the 2nd and the 4th, very easily at 6-2 and 6-0. However, all the three tight sets, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th were won by Fokina 7-6,7-6 and 7-5.

4th round and QF did not see any major upset. Higher ranked, world number 2 Medvedev lost to world number 5 Tsitsipas but that can hardly be called an upset, considering that the surface being clay-court favored Tsitsipas more than Medvedev.

Comebacks

1st round comebacks; 6th seed Sascha Zverev lost his 1st two sets versus German Oscar Otte before roaring back to win 3-6,3-6, 6-2,6-2,6-0. Sascha is now 7-0 at the French Open in 5 set matches, and overall 16-7. He hit 50 winners to get out of trouble after losing the 1st two sets.

Frances Tiafoe and Steve Johnson were both regular top 30 players but have slipped since and are now in the ’70s and ’80s. Tiafoe won the 1st two sets but Johnson took the next three to win an interesting 1st round match.

Highly rated Jannick Sinner had a tough 1st round match versus Pierre Hughes Herbert and was down by two sets to one and was facing a match point but came through to win 6-1,4-6,6-7,7-5,6-4.

2nd round comebacks; In a battle between two Serbian players, Laslo Dere defeated Kecmanovic in five sets after losing the 1st two sets.

In 2013, Chilean C Garin was the French Open boys champion, defeating Sascha Zverev in the final. He lost the 1st 2 sets versus American Mackenzie Macdonald, before digging deep to win a 5 set thriller 4-6,4-6,7-6,6-3,8-6.

Classic matches that went the distance

1st round classics Kei Nishikori defeated Italian Allesandro Giannesi 6-4, 6-7 (4) , 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Kei came back from a break down in the final set. Out of 32 five-set matches in his career, Kei has won 27, which is the best amongst active players. At 78.1%, it is better than Tommy Robredo (77.3% with 17-5) and Novak (76.7% with 33-10).

2nd round classics also feature Kei Nishikori. He defeated the higher-ranked Khachanov after losing the 1st and the 3rd set, and won the 4th and 5th at 6-4, 6-4. His 5th set performance improved to 28-5 or 84.84%. Nishikori got a walkover after winning the 1st set 7-5vs Laaksonen but then Sascha Zverev had an easy win over him.

3rd round and 4th round classics both feature Lorenzo Musetti, the Italian teen and youngest player in the world top 100 who played the 1st 5-set match of his career to beat former semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato in the 3rd round. In the 1st and second rounds too he had defeated higher-ranked players in Goffin (11th seed) and Nishioka. In the 4th round too, he led 2 sets to Nil vs Novak, and that too both in tiebreakers, but then a spectacular comeback by Novak saw him win the next two 6-1,6-0 before Musetti conceded after being 0-4 down in the 5th set. His performance saw him rise from 76 to 61 in the rankings. One disconcerting note though was his saying that he conceded, not as he was injured, but as he was not winning points. This attitude has to improve.

Performance of top 4 seeds in FO 2021

Novak Djokovic had his 1st match against Tennys Sandgren, who had once taken a set off him at the 2018 US Open. This was their 3rd match and Novak played flawless tennis to easily win 6-2,6-4,6-2. Novak continued his awesome form in the second round with a swift 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Cuevas. The 3rd round also saw a hapless opponent in Berankis who was systematically taken apart 6-1,6-4,6-1. The highly-rated Musetti was Novak’s next opponent. He was Novak’s training partner as well, and it looked like an upset was possible as Musetti won the 1st two sets, both in tie-breakers. However, after losing two sets, a different Novak was seen and he roared back to win 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-0, and 4-0. Late in the 5th set Musetti retired due to cramps. Novak’s QF opponent was the big-hitting Berrettini. Novak took the 1st 2 sets easily and at 5-4 in the 3rd set tie-break had 2 serves. Surprisingly, two unforced errors gave Berretini a set point which is immediately converted, The 4th set saw guts and glory tennis from both before Novak prevailed 7-5.

Medvedev had lost in the 1st round for four years at Roland Garros. This year he had a 1-3 record on clay so far. He had an interesting 1st round encounter against world number 37, Alexander Bublik, but played very well to win in straight sets. In the 2nd round, he defeated American Tommy Paul, the 2015 French Open Boys champion, in 4 sets to qualify for the 3rd round against big-serving American Reilly Opelka. 3rd round also saw an easy win for Daniil, and he defeated Opelka 6-4,6-2,6-4. The 4th round saw him coming up against a clay court specialist Garin who had defeated him earlier as well. Medvedev won this easily as well, 6-2,6-1,7-5. In the QF, Medvedev was against Tsitsipas and he had a 6-1 career h2h against him. However, it was the Greek who prevailed. Interestingly both Medvedev and Tsitsipas had never lost a QF in a Grand Slam and had won 3 each. The QF streak of one had to stop, and it was Medvedev’s. Tsitsipas won in straight sets in a match in which Medvedev did give a fight in the second and third sets. Overall Medvedev has reasons to be happy with his performance this year.

Rafa Nadal started his campaign against Popyrin and won the 1st two sets in customary style. In the 3rd set, Popyrin unexpectedly had two set points on his serve but could not convert and Rafa closed it out in the tiebreaker. This was Rafa’s 101st win at the French Open. He then played the talented Gasquet who has entered a couple of Grand Slam semi-finals in his career. Rafa won in straight sets, and only in the 2nd set there was a semblance of a fight by Gasquet with some stunning shots. The next match was once again an easy win for Rafa who conceded just 9 games in the match. In the 4th round, Rafa once again faced Sinner, who gave a brief fight only in the 1st set, before being outclassed 7-5,6-3,6-0. It was now 104 and counting for Rafa as regards matches won in the FP and his 15th QF at the FO Open. With this match, Rafa had a 35 set streak. This was second only to his own 38 set streak from 2016-18 and Bjorn Borg’s 41 set streak. Rafa won a terrific QF versus Diego Schwartzmann in which he lost the second set and his streak stopped at 36. The 3rd set was tight but as Rafa has done so many times, he played the big points well and won it 6-5, before rounding off the match with a perfect 6-0 in the 4th set.

Dominic Thiem, as mentioned earlier, lost in the 1st round to Pablo Andujar. Hence I will make a special mention of the great Roger Federer. He participated in the French Open as a preparatory tournament for Wimbledon, and this itself was criticized. Federer started with an easy win over Dennis Istomin before playing and winning a hard fought four set win versus Marin Cilic. His 3rd round match was versus the German Koepker and it was a keenly contested 4 set thriller, with Federer winning 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 and 7-5. He however immediately after the match stated that he may withdraw and did so the next day, which divided the tennis world, as for a change, a player was withdrawing, not because of injury, but because of “possible injury”.

Therefore we have seen that 2 of the 4 top seeds reached the SF. The other 2 semi-finalists were Sascha Zverev and Tsitsipas. Let us quickly check their route to the semi-finals.

Zverev, after his 1st round 5 set win over Otte, had 4 straight-set wins. In the second round he defeated Russian player Roman Safiullin and in the 3rd he defeated the Serbian Lazlo Dere. Kei Nishikori, on a comeback trail was the next opponent and Sascha had a comprehensive win. In the QF as well, Davidovich Fokina was vanquished.

Stefanos Tsitsipas lost just one set en-route reaching the semi-finals. He won in straight sets versus French player Jeremy Chardy in the 1st and Spaniard Pedro Martinez in the second round. John Isner stretched him to 4 sets in the 34d round while in the 4th round which was expected to be competitive, he had an easy win over Busta. The quarter-finals saw him winning for the second time in eight matches versus Medvedev

Promising Players; Casper Ruud. Lorenzo Musetti and Jannick Sinner come to mind. All have potential and all need to become mentally tougher. One can certainly expect great stuff from these three.

Review of Semi-Finals;

SF one saw Tsitsipas take on Sascha. This was the 8th match between them and Tsitsipas had won 5 of them, including their only match on clay, which was at the 2019 Madrid Masters which Tsitsipas won two sets to one. This was the youngest SF at the French Open since 2008, when Nadal played Novak. Overall too, it is the youngest semi-final since 2010, when Murray played Cilic in the SF of the 2010 Australian Open. For Zverv this was his 3rd SF and he had won one and lost one, while for Tsitsipas, it was his 4th SF in a Grand Slam but he had lost the 1st three.

Tsitsipas won the 1st two sets and then Sascha made a comeback by winning the next two but Tsitsipas prevailed in the 5th to become the 1st Greek to enter a men’s Grand Slam singles final. He extended his h2h to 6-2.

SF two saw Novak meeting Rafa. This was Novak’s 40th Grand Slam semi-final and Rafa’s 35th but certainly Rafa’s conversion into Grand Slam Championships has been better since in 20 out of the 34, he went on to win the tournament while Novak so far had gone on to win 18 out of his 39 semi-final appearances. For the record, maximum semi-final appearance is Federer with as many as 46.

This was also the duo’s 17th meeting in Grand Slams with Rafa leading 10-6, which includes 7-1 at the French Open. Overall they had met 57 times with Novak leading 29-28. However on clay, Rafa led 19-7. This 17th meeting equalled the number of meetings Novak and Federer have had in Grand Slams.

Rafa started strongly with a 5-0 lead in the 1st set and Novak’s fans must have had a feeling that it would be like the 2020 finals where Rafa had allowed Novak just 7 games. However, Novak fought back and while he lost the 1st set 3-6, he was now hitting the ball well. The second set was Novak’s and then we saw a titanic 3rd set which went on for 96 minutes and Novak prevailed in the tie-breaker. Rafa took a 2-0 lead in the 4th but Novak was not to be denied and he took 6 games in a row to have a famous win. He himself said it was amongst the top 3 wins of his career.

To out Novak’s win in prespective, this was the 133rd time Nadal was playing in abest of 5 set match on clay court and the 108th time in French Open and just the 3rd loss ever for Rafa, with Novak winning twice and Soderling once.

Respecting the magnitude of the occasion, COVID-19 curfew was relaxed so that the 5000 strong crowd could continue to watch the thrilling match. That in itself shows how important the match was.

Review of Finals

This was the 8th meeting between Djokovic and Tsitsipas. They had won two each before Novak won three in a row. Lat year they had played n epic 2021 French Open semi-final where Novak prevailed in a thrilling 5 set match. Both the wins of Tsitsipas had come on hard-courts and Novak had won all their three matches on clay so far. This was the 29th Grand Slam final for Novak, includng 6 at the French Open while it was the 1st ever Grand Slam Final for Tsitsipas.

If anyone had thought that Tsitsipas would be unnerved at the prospect of playing his 1st Grand Slam, those thoughts were soon dispelled as the Greek played excellent tennis to take the match to 5-5. Novak broke but Tsitsipas broke back to take the set to the tiebreak which was a very tight one and it was Tsitsipas who won it. The Greek capitalised to break Novak right in the 1st game of the 2nd set. First set 7-6. He then kept on holding serve and to ensure there were no hiccups got a second break as well to win the set 6-2. The 3rd set however saw Novak regroup and an early break and comfortable holds saw him win the 3rd set 6-3. 4th set was vintage Novak and he quickly had not just one break but two to race away to a 4-0 lead. Tsitsipas tried to pull it back but Novak was relentless and maintained his serve to close out the set 6-2.

It was now 2 sets all. Only Gadio, Agassi and Lendl had come back from 2 sets down to lift the French Open and this was in 2004, 1999 and 1985. Could Novak do it.

Yes Novak did so. Once again it was an early break for the Champion and while Tsitsipas bravely held and avoided a bouble break, Novak held his nerve and served out for an epic 5 set win to win his 19th Grand Slam Championship.

Congrats Novak Djokovic and Congrats Stefanos Tsitsipas as well for an excellent tournament…                                       

About the Author:

The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Pragativadi and Pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

                           

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