French Open 2021 started on a controversial note and ended with Novak Djokovic lifting the trophy for the second time at Roland Garros. In Barbora Krejcikova a sixth different woman was crowned women's singles champion in six years. On the men's side, Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal's unbeaten run to go on and win for the second time in six years in Paris.
A look back at the key talking points from the previous fortnight and how things unravelled at Roland Garros.
Djokovic climbs Mount Everest
"Probably the best 40 hours I've ever head," said Novak Djokovic after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the final on Sunday. Those 40 hours also account for a hugely impressive win over Nadal in the semi-final. Djokovic likened that win to "climbing Mount Everest". And he wasn't exaggerating. Twice, Djokovic came from two sets to love down to win the tournament " against Lorenzo Musetti earlier and Tsitsipas on Sunday. Is this his greatest Grand Slam triumph? That's a fair argument to make. He took down two of the best clay courters at the moment in marathon matches. If the primary objective was to cut down on the Roger Federer, Nadal Grand Slam tally, he achieved that and more.
Krejcikova wins first major title
Barbora Krejcikova won her maiden Grand Slam title by beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in the final. For the second Slam running, the women's champion saved a match point on the way to lifting the trophy aloft. Naomi Osaka did that in Melbourne and Krejcikova did so now (she saved a match point against Maria Sakkari in the semi-final). All credit to her for the poise, for the attitude, for the variety that is required on the red clay and maybe, above all, for the humbleness. If her tennis is calm and pleasing, her post-match speeches made her a loveable athlete. Her words for former mentor Jana Novotna; thanking Martina Navratilova and the gushing on seeing Justine Henin. Perfect. Just to recap: In the last 16 Grand Slams, 10 have been won by first-time winners on the women's side.
Greek tragedy for Tsitsipas
How devastating must the defeat be for Stefanos Tsitsipas? Through to the French Open final after a great show in the warm-up events. He was playing great tennis and coming through after beating different style of opponents. Big serving John Isner, flat-hitting Daniil Medvedev and the tenacious Alexander Zverev. For the first two sets, Tsitsipas had the measure of Djokovic. He was hitting the ball well, was more positive in his approach and was seemingly unfazed by the occasion. Just as he looked to be running away with it, the level and intensity dropped. And it allowed Djokovic to do what he does best. He pushed in the fifth set, tried to spur himself on, but the momentum had shifted. It was a tragic end to his first Grand Slam final but in the last two weeks he showed he belonged here.
Pavlyuchenkova comes close (finally), but misses
It took 52 majors for Pavlyuchenkova to get to the semi-finals. She had reached the quarter-finals six times but never crossed that hurdle. By beating Elena Rybakina, she got to the semi-final. And then she hit past Tamara Zidansek for a place in the title match. In the first set, it looked to be going horribly wrong for her. The Russian started to play better and dominate the rallies in the second. When it mattered, Krejcikova held her nerves to win the match and the title. Would be interesting to see if she, and Krejcikova both, builds on this run at Wimbledon.
Scheduling concerns? Ask Krejcikova
The key reason many singles players opt against doubles at Slams is the scheduling challenges it poses. You are required to play daily, sometimes twice a day, which takes a toll. Krejcikova highlighted that it can be done. She came into the tournament with a win in Strasbourg, won the singles title and then the doubles (alongside Katerina Siniakova). She also played mixed doubles event making the quarter-finals. By winning both singles and doubles titles, Krejcikova became the first woman to do the 'double' at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000.
Variety on the women's tour
There are multiple women at the top who play both singles and doubles. Ash Barty entered both draws (alongside Jennifer Brady), Iga Swiatek reached the final alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Pavlyuchenkova, Rybakina and Krejcikova won the whole thing. It could well be due to the best-of-3 format that allows the women to play multiple events, or it could be the prize money. But it bodes well for the tournament to see the stars bring in increased audience. And the sport could really do with more of that.
Nadal, still the King of Clay
And the King is beaten. For the first time since 2015, and just the third time in 17 years, Nadal was beaten at Roland Garros. There were couple of things that didn't go his way but Djokovic's win was quite remarkable. The manner it came in and the momentum shifts made it even better. In his quest for being the G.O.A.T. this match might prove to be a key difference. As for Nadal, his legacy and supreme skills on the red dirt cannot be questioned even now. Maybe ever.
Emotional Herbert, Mahut win doubles title
An emotional Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut fought back from a set and break down at 4-5 to win the men's doubles title. This is their second French Open title and fifth Grand Slam overall. They had gone without a major title since 2019 Australian Open.
Czech double, France worries, US improves
Krejcikova was not the only Czech player to triumph at Roland Garros. In the girl's singles, 16-year-old Linda Noskova beat Erika Andreeva of Russia. Krejcikova became the first Czech champion at Roland Garros since Hana Mandilikova in 1981; and Noskova the first also since Mandilikova in 1978. When it pours, it rains!
If there was reason to celebrate for Czech tennis, there was cause for introspection for French tennis. 18 men entered the main draw, 0 moved into the third draw. No French men or women entered the third round " a first in 53 years. Later, there was reason to be hopeful for the future. All four spots in the boys singles semi-finals were occupied by French players " a first since the event was introduced in 1947.
US, which has historically had a poor record at Roland Garros among the men, had four players going into the third draw. Steve Johnson, John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Marcos Giron comprised the biggest American contingent in Paris in 25 years. It was thinned to none in the fourth round but there is reason to be hopeful.
Medvedev the wizard
He had everyone fooled. He lambasted the surface, asked to be defaulted, wanted to be put out of his misery. He had a dismal record on the surface. Daniil Medvedev was the second seed and you could have put good money on him going out in the first round. And he had a tricky opponent in Alexander Bublik so it was going to be a safe bet. Except Medvedev played like he belonged. He got through tough opponents and was stopped in the quarters by Tsitsipas. Not bad returns at all.
Jury still out on Federer
Tennis world is still divided over Federer's decision to withdraw from the French Open after his third round win. Patrick McEnroe said in a video, "This is a major, not a tune-up tournament."
Former Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee wrote on Twitter, "You're not at a candy store, able to pick and choose which matches you play, as your actions affect others, and the tournament."
Federer opted out of playing further in Paris to give his knee, on which there have been two surgeries in a year, time to heal before moving to Wimbledon. Roger had already stated that Wimbledon was his target and focus so the decision to withdraw after a match that ended past midnight, wasn't a surprise.
There are two schools of thought on this one: One says Federer, at 39, has to listen to his body and decided accordingly. If you want to appreciate Federer for longer, you have to acknowledge he is going to cherry-pick his tournaments (and he has). Another is that he could have skipped the tournament altogether if he wasn't going to give it his best shot. Blame it on the schedule with Wimbledon starting in two weeks.
Naomi Osaka episode
A lot has been said already on this. Organisers lacked the level of empathy that was required, the tricky affair that is the 'mandatory' press conference, the uneasy relationship between athletes and success and the pressure on young athletes in general. Everyone appeared to be on different pages but what remained clear was that athlete's health was at the forefront - even if it doesn't appear to be the case at times. Many of her peers had empathy for her except they differed on the premise. They differed on her decision while understanding the Japanese player's point. What would be best for the sport is to move on from this and learn. For the Slams to sit down with Naomi, as the player herself suggested, and figure what is a suitable way forward.
Mental challenge of champions
Picking up from the previous point, one athlete who is trying to deal with the level of success, of winning a major tournament is Dominic Thiem. The 2020 US Open winner has acknowledged that he is figuring a way to work with the success that came at Flushing Meadows. His results have nosedived since, suffering a first round defeat from two sets up in the first round at French Open, and it would take some doing to come back from here. And it would be a pleasure to see the Austrian hit the ball as he used to and go deep at tournaments again.
What the curfew!
French Tennis Federation implemented the 9 PM and then 11 PM curfew rather strangely. Christian Garin's supporters stuck around past the curfew in his second round match. People were incensed when asked to leave mid-way into Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini. And the decision to waive off the curfew during Nadal-Djokovic takes the cake. Unsure whether this inconsistent decision making is a reflection of the French government or the organisers. Either way, empty stadiums steal from the spectacle and shoving people outside at the same time isn't the safest plan.
# Coco Gauff, who looked like a veteran and not a 17-year-old in her run to the semi-finals.
# Sofia Kenin, who played her first tournament since splitting with her father-coach, and doing well to reach the fourth round.
# Aryna Sabalenka offered plenty and was a strong contender, only to fizzle with a bagel in the third set while making 17 unforced errors.
# How good is Lorenzo Musetti! For the first two sets, it was looking to be the match of the tournament. But the third, fourth and incomplete fifth set stole the impending drama. For the Italian, though, there's reason to take heart.
# Osaka was coming in with a 14-match winning streak at majors. Barty, Swiatek were looking in sublime form. As was Sabalenka. It didn't feel like an open field for a change. And still we had six first-time quarter-finalists and four first-time semi-finalists. Depth!
Match of the tournament: Nadal vs Djokovic (men), Ana Bogdan vs Paula Badosa (women)
Shot of the tournament: Lorenzo Musetti
Quote of the tournament: "For me personally how I deal with it [press conferences] was that I know every single person asking me a question can't play as well as I can and never will. So no matter what you say or what you write, you'll never light a candle to me. That's how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently," said Venus Williams.