With a 6-3, 6-4 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid, Novak Djokovic is back on level terms with Rafael Nadal, at 33 ATP Masters 1000 titles, and is back in major-tournament winning form, right in time for Roland Garros.
"I wasn't playing my best tennis after Australia," Djokovic said. "I was looking to regain momentum this week."
The 15-time Grand Slam champion was exemplary in the first set, taking Tsitsipas' best tennis and one-upping it at every opportunity. It wasn't enough to deflate the 20-year-old, who beat Nadal on Saturday, as Tsitsipas answered each Djokovic hold with one of his own, to 4-4. That's when the world No. 1's peerless form returned.
At 15-15, Djokovic was given three opportunities to pass Tsitsipas at net. That was at least one opportunity too many.
At 15-30, Djokovic—whose defensive lob against Dominic Thiem on Saturday may have been the best I've ever seen—rescued another point he was in sure to lose with another supreme stab. Resetting the point, he proceeded to fire a winner to earn double break point.
The Serb converted the break and served for the match—he needed four match points to close it out, the first three lost by Djokovic errors. Even those misses were telling: Tsitsipas wasn't as bold, or accurate, as he needed to be today; this was a match defined by what Djokovic did, from start to finish.
"He wasn't as dynamic in the movements as last night," Djokovic said about Tsitsipas, who completed his semifinal win over Nadal around midnight local time.
Thirty-three Masters titles (in 48 finals) isn't the same as 20 Grand Slam titles, but it's a number Djokovic must be commended for, and one he'll look to add upon in Rome.
From the Associated Press:
MADRID (AP) — Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 to win his third Madrid Open title on Sunday, tying Rafael Nadal for most Masters 1000 trophies with 33.
It was the second title of the season for the top-ranked Djokovic, adding to his triumph in the Australian Open. He hadn't won in Madrid since 2016, with his other title in the Spanish capital coming in 2011.
Nadal and Djokovic have five more Masters 1000 titles than Roger Federer, third in the all-time list.
"These are the best tournaments, biggest tournaments we have in our sport, in the ATP, of course alongside the Grand Slams," Djokovic said. "This is as important and as good as it gets."
Djokovic was in control from the start against his 20-year-old Greek opponent, who had defeated Nadal in the Madrid semifinals and was trying to become the first player to win three tour titles this season.
The Serb broke Tsitsipas early in the first set and late in the second to comfortably close out the match at the Magic Box center court, securing his 14th clay title — and 74th overall — without dropping a set.
The eighth-seeded Tsitsipas, the tour's winningest player in 2019 with 27 victories, lacked the intensity and aggressiveness that he showed against second-ranked Nadal and was overpowered by Djokovic. He had beaten Djokovic in Toronto last year in the first meeting between the two players.
Djokovic didn't concede a break point on Sunday, earning a crucial one for himself at 4-4 in the second set by returning Tsitsipas' overhead shot with a backhand winner down the line. He then served out to win the match.
The 31-year-old Djokovic, who now has 200 wins against top 10 opponents, had struggled after winning the Australian Open, with his best result since then having been a quarterfinal appearance in Monte Carlo at the start of the clay-court season.
He was coming off a confidence-boosting win over an in-form Dominic Thiem to make it to the final in Madrid.
Tsitsipas, who will reach a career-high No. 7 ranking this week, won titles in Estoril and Marseille, and reached the final in Dubai, where he lost to Federer. He was beaten by Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals for his best-ever showing in a Grand Slam. The Toronto final, when he lost to Nadal, was his first in a Masters 1000 event.
In the doubles final, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau defeated Thiem and Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-3 for their second Madrid Open title, adding to their 2016 victory.
Kiki Bertens won the women's title on Saturday.
More to come on this match from Steve Tignor.