Paris: As any seasoned mountaineer to have set off from Everest Base Camp can attest, scaling the world’s highest peak is only part of the journey. The enormous physical and emotional energy to carry on, having already ticked off that gruelling feat brings many unstuck. In Novak Djokovic’s realm, it had brought all unstuck, himself included, until Sunday on Court Philippe-Chatrier, when the Serb saw what he had deemed his sport’s equivalent through to its completion with victory from two sets down against Greek challenger Stefanos Tstisipas.
The world No.1, only 48 hours earlier, likened his defeat of 13-time champion Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier to climbing Mount Everest.
Swede Robin Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic himself six years ago were the only two who had reached that summit before, only to have fallen short at the final destination, in a subsequent Roland-Garros decider.
The only man to have earned a second shot at it on the terre battue of Roland-Garros rounded out that expedition, 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 against the 22-year-old Tsitsipas.
Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to win the four majors twice and to have come from two sets down twice en route to a Grand Slam title.
“Of course, I am thrilled and I’m very proud of this achievement. 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,” Djokovic said.
“I couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with this kind of scenario in the last 48 hours. Probably ranks at the top three all-time achievements and experiences that I had in my professional tennis career.
“Going through a four-and-a-half battle with Rafa on his court, then bouncing back after not practicing yesterday, just coming in today with as much as recharged batteries and energy regained to fight another battle of four-and-a-half hours against Tsitsipas, who is playing in his first Grand Slam final.”
What had been mission impossible every year Nadal had taken the court in Paris, looked to have become mission improbable, at best, on Sunday, after Djokovic had conceded the opening two sets to a free-swinging opponent with little to lose.
Ever the astute observer of any slight deviation in behaviour from his rival, a half step slower, the mutterings, any marginally mistimed ball, the type that had been sailing clear for winners earlier, the Serb was at all times poised.
“Everything is possible, and I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam. But I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third-round loss in Wimbledon. This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal.”
It leaves little time to savour one of his most fulfilling expeditions.
A sixth Wimbledon trophy and a maiden Olympic gold are the next peaks on that bucket list, journeys he is well-prepared, physically and mentally, to see through in 2021.
Serbinator’s gifts his racket to fan
After sealing victory, Djokovic went over to the stands and gave his racquet to a young fan who the Serb said had been providing tactical advice as well as support. The youngster was beside himself with joy after being given the gift, looking incredulous as he bounced up and down in delight.
“I don’t know the boy, but he was in my ear the entire match basically, especially when I was two sets to love down,” a smiling Djokovic said. “He was encouraging me. He was actually giving me tactics, as well. He was like, ‘hold your serve, get an easy first ball, then dictate, go to his backhand’.
“He was coaching me – literally. “I found that very cute, very nice. So I felt like to give the racquet to the best person was him after the match. “That was kind of my gratitude for him sticking with me and supporting me.”