Stefanos Tsitsipas excited thoughts of a major shift in men’s tennis, only to be crushed by the resilience of Novak Djokovic over five sets.
The Serb, just turned 34, eventually rebounded from his gruelling semi-final win to claim his 19th Grand Slam title at the French Open with another show of superhuman mental and physical stamina.
His 22 year-old opponent could not maintain his early momentum or quality and went down 6-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 in four hours and eleven minutes.
It leaves Djokovic just one behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the race to see who can win the most Majors, a competition he now looks certain to win. He becomes the first man in the post-1968 Open era to have won each Grand Slam twice.
As seen in best of five matches before, the Serb’s energy levels strangely fluctuated, and he looked flat in the second set before revving himself up from the third onwards. It was his second comeback from two sets down in this tournament.
After the first two sets he focussed more on his opponent’s backhand, and it paid dividends.
Ultimately it was not the close with Tsitsipas never closing on victory. In the fifth set he was broken in the third game when he hit a backhand long from yet another Djokovic drive that landed close to the baseline. He read the Greek’s attempted dropshots like a book.
Djokovic was unhappy with the stadium lights being turned on but remained solid in the decider, gratefully accepting his opponent’s unforced errors while playing relatively conservatively.
Tsitsipas pressed him to the very end as he got a little tighter, but could never quite get back into it. Winning all four this year looks feasible.
The Greek was under all the early pressure but held on, and missed a set point at 5-4 when Djokovic, typically, dug in for a 25-stroke rally.
When the Serb then broke, the script looked predictable: the young challenger would have fluffed his big chance and then faded obediently away.
Yet he then broke back to force a tiebreak, in which he led 4-0 and 5-2, having cured his early problems with the return.
Again Djokovic came back by locking into the rallies and he forced his own set point at 6-5, only for another tale of the unexpected when the Greek reeled off three straight points to take the opener.
He compounded that with an early break in the second, and on a steaming hot afternoon in Paris Djokovic suddenly looked like he was feeling his mammoth semi-final against Rafael Nadal on Friday night, which subconsciously will have felt like a final.
The second set revival never came against the crunching power of Tsitsipas, who was having more and more success on the return, and he took it in 35 minutes.