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Novak Djokovic eyes Paris after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win Madrid Open

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/05/2019 Kevin Mitchell in Madrid
Novak Djokovic hitting a ball with a racket: Novak Djokovic is a picture of concentration as he makes a return during his win over Stefano Tsitsipas in the Madrid Open final. © Getty Images Novak Djokovic is a picture of concentration as he makes a return during his win over Stefano Tsitsipas in the Madrid Open final.

Novak Djokovic, without a trophy since the Australian Open and distracted for too long by off-court politics, ground down the best young contender in the game, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 6-4, here on to win his third Madrid Open and move closer to making history at Roland Garros in three weeks’ time.

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His last clay title, remarkably, was in the French Open three years ago, when he beat Andy Murray in the final to become just the third player to own all four men’s majors at the same time. He prepared for that achievement with victory in this tournament – also over the Scot. Back to near his best now after a minor dip, he looks fit and confident enough to do it again, which would be some turnaround after an ordinary season.

Elated and relieved, he said courtside: “Yesterday’s semi-final win [over Dominic Thiem] was very important for my confidence. I didn’t drop a set, so I’m very pleased. I needed to step in against Stefanos. He had a very late night against Rafa [Nadal in three sets], and he wasn’t as dynamic in movement, but he’s very talented, a new star in tennis, with a bright future.”

The loser (who will not be described thus in many big finals) told the winner on court: “Physically, I was not there. My legs were not coping with my mind. I could feel the fatigue and this soreness, not just in my legs, but everywhere in my body. He knew I had a tough match last night, so he took advantage of that, making me run and suffer more. I just didn’t have solutions. But I feel happy with my performance [the past] couple of days. At the same time, I feel empty. Empty – not disappointment. I’m so tired right now that my mind is not working.”

This was Djokovic’s 33rd Masters title, elevating him alongside Nadal, five ahead of Roger Federer. Tsitsipas had seen off his near rival, Alexander Zverev, in three sets in the quarters, and then picked Nadal’s tennis to pieces at the end of another tough match to reach his first final at this level, but he found Djokovic in no mood to accommodate his budding genius.

The last top 10 player to beat Djokovic in his previous 18 matches was Zverev in the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November. Tsitsipas took two points off the Djokovic serve in the first game, but it was the only time he was in front in the first 40 minutes.

Djokovic, eschewing the spectacular for the clinical, drilled deep into his opponent’s dwindling confidence, nagging at his defence with flat, deep groundstrokes behind a steady serve. Djokovic, who went 3-0 up inside a quarter of an hour, was noticeably more comfortable than he had been in his double tie-break struggle against Thiem, while Tsitsipas did not look the energised player who had driven Nadal to distraction in the first and third sets. later that evening.

The underdog who had beaten their favourite in style got plenty of love from the crowd, but sentiment counts for nothing in the last match of any tournament.

Tsitsipas finally got on the board in the fourth game, and he did well to eke out another hold through deuce for 2-4 with a running cross-court chip. Still, he had a lot of damage to repair, on the scoreboard and mentally.

Stefanos Tsitsipas hitting a ball with a racket: Stefanos Tsitsipas is fully extended by a dominant Novak Djokovic. Photograph: Javier Lizón/EPA © EPA Stefanos Tsitsipas is fully extended by a dominant Novak Djokovic. Photograph: Javier Lizón/EPA

A forehand clipped the line in the seventh game and Tsitsipas then held nervously to stay in the set. A wild backhand handed Djokovic three set points and, at the second attempt, he wrapped up the frame with a rock-solid serve.

A set down against a player celebrating his 250th week as world No1, 20-year-old Tsitsipas – who played doubles as late as 1am on Friday morning and did not get to sleep for a further three hours – had to shrug off any fatigue and take some risks just to stay in the contest.

The Greek had to save twice at the start of the second set, although there was no sign he was ready to go quietly. He raided the net 33 times against Nadal, which stretched the Spaniard to breaking point, and now he charged Djokovic with increased regularity.

To his credit, Tsitsipas was making nearly every exchange competitive and, ahead in the serving cycle, he knew the subliminal pressure was on Djokovic to stay in touch. But the 15-major champion turned that on his head when he forced a wayward forehand to break in the ninth game.

After wasting three match points to endure his first deuce points in the match, he steadied his nerves to grab a fourth. His last shot in Madrid was a short, forehand jab at the end of another quality rally.

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