PARIS — Talented and tenacious as they come, Novak Djokovic was not about to concede a thing after dropping the first two sets of the French Open final against his younger, fresher foe, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Djokovic looked diminished and depleted at the outset Sunday. By the end, he was at his imperious best.
The top-seeded Djokovic came all the way back to beat the fifth-seeded Tsitsipas 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 for his second championship at Roland Garros and 19th Grand Slam title overall.
Djokovic is now just one major trophy away from tying the men’s record of 20 shared by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. And reigning Australian Open champion Djokovic now stands halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam, something no man has accomplished since Rod Laver in 1969.
The 34-year-old Djokovic eliminated 13-time French Open champion Nadal — a challenge the Serb likened to scaling Mt. Everest — in a semifinal that lasted more than four hours Friday night.
That was only Nadal’s third career loss in 108 matches at the clay-court major tournament.
Djokovic also defeated Nadal in Paris in 2015 before losing that year’s final, and it appeared as if the same fate was waiting Sunday.
Djokovic looked drained early, and the 22-year-old Tsitsipas had the upper hand for two sets.
“It was not easy for me, both physically and mentally,” Djokovic said, “especially over the past two or three days.”
Eventually, though, Djokovic started making fewer mistakes, got his best-in-the-game returning on track and served so flawlessly down the stretch that he did not face a single break point over the last three sets.
That enabled him to complete his sixth career comeback from two sets down — and second of the past week.
Indeed, the International Tennis Federation said Djokovic — who trailed 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti two sets to none in the fourth round — is the first man in the professional era to win a Grand Slam tournament after twice facing a 2-0 deficit in sets.
Experience could have been a factor, too.
This was the first major final for Tsitsipas and 29th for Djokovic, who also won the French Open in 2016, along with nine titles at the Australian Open, five at Wimbledon and three at the U.S. Open.
Of just as much, if not more, significance to the ultimate outcome Sunday: Djokovic entered the day with a 34-10 record in five-setters — including a men’s-record 31 wins in Grand Slam matches of that length — while Tsitsipas was 5-4.
On a sunny and breezy afternoon, with the temperature approaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit (over 25 degrees Celsius), Tsitsipas needed just over 100 minutes to grab a big lead Sunday.
A supreme returner and imposer of his will, Djokovic grabbed early breaks of serve in each of the third, fourth and fifth sets.
Shadows were spreading across the court as the sun descended in the early evening and, though Djokovic complained that the artificial lights were switched on, he shined when it mattered the most.
This was another match that lasted more than four hours, and Djokovic was up to the task again.
AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.
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