REACTION: Djokovic's phenomenal performance sinks Nadal in the semifinals


The generational clash is becoming a thing in men’s major finals. At this year’s first Slam, the Australian Open, 33-year-old Novak Djokovic defeated 25-year-old Daniil Medvedev. On Sunday at Roland Garros, Djokovic, now 34, will take on 22-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Big 3 are still at the top of the mountain, but the Next Gen is just a match away from joining them on that summit.

Can Tsitsipas do what Medvedev couldn’t in Melbourne, and push Djokovic off that peak in Paris? To stay with the same metaphor, it will be an uphill effort. On Friday Djokovic scaled his own self-described Everest when he beat Rafael Nadal for the second time in nine tries at Roland Garros. Rather than having a letdown on Sunday, I would guess that he’ll be doubly determined not to waste a precious opportunity to win his second title in Paris. The last time he beat Rafa there, in 2015, he lost the final to Stan Wawrinka.

Fortunately for Djokovic, Tsitsipas is not Wawrinka. The Greek is a formidable opponent and a potential future No. 1 who is gaining confidence by the day. He pushed Djokovic to five sets in the semis in Paris last year, and he pushed him to the limit a couple weeks ago in Rome before falling 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. But he won’t scare Djokovic in the same way that Wawrinka did, because he doesn’t have the same unpredictable ability to take the racquet out of an opponent’s hand on a given day, the way Stan did when he was at his best.

Djokovic has won all three of the pair's previous clay-court meetings.

Djokovic has won all three of the pair's previous clay-court meetings.

Tsitsipas builds points with his serve and forehand, and mixes spins with his backhand, and he does it all with increasing brilliance and consistency. But none of his shots are unbeatable weapons when they’re on, like Wawrinka’s ground strokes once were. Djokovic is 5-2 against Tsitsipas and has won their last four meetings. He knows he’ll be able to play with him, which should make him less edgy than he was in the 2015 final. And if Djokovic is weary from his four-hour win over Nadal, Tsitsipas may feel the same way after his three-and-a-half hour win over Alexander Zverev. In Melbourne, when Tsitsipas beat Nadal in a five-set quarterfinal, he didn’t have much left for his semifinal against Medvedev.

Now that he has broken through the Rafa wall at Roland Garros, the future must look exceedingly bright for Djokovic. He’s one victory from a second title at Roland Garros, one victory from becoming the first man since Rod Laver to win each Slam at least twice, and one victory from reaching the halfway point of a calendar-year Grand Slam. Not getting that victory would be much more devastating to him that it would to Tsitsipas, who may already feel happy with what he has achieved in Paris. Winner: Djokovic