Mendoza: Djokovic’s dogged determination does it

Novak Djokovic said defeating Rafael Nadal was like conquering Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak at 29,029 feet located in Nepal and Tibet.

That’s almost absolutely true as Nadal, 35, before his semifinal match against the 34-year-old Djokovic, enjoyed a massive 7-1 edge in their French Open rivalry and was 19-7 overall on clay.

Ah, clay, the French Open’s surface. Nadal won a record 13 times there.

Before his 58th head-to-head meeting with Djokovic on Friday, Nadal lost just twice in 107 French Open matches entering his 35th Grand Slam semifinal.

But then, one of those two defeats was inflicted by Djokovic in 2015, after Nadal suffered his first French Open loss in 2009 at the hands of Robert Soderling.

Thus, to say that that win fueled Djokovic’s drive for a repeat triumph over Nadal and advance to a sixth French Open final rings true.

That four-set victory lasted four hours and 11 minutes.

Some 48 hours later, Djokovic won the French Open but not after surviving the big scare of losing the first two sets.

Djokovic’s 6-7 (8-6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas was a classic in the sense that it’s not normal for someone to win a Grand Slam after falling into a 0-2 hole.

But then, this was Djokovic, known for his resilience and dogged determination to escape a la Houdini the death-cheater.

After taking a locker break right after losing the first two sets, Djokovic looked thoroughly refreshed with his new T-shirt.

“After that, there was not much of a doubt for me,” said Djokovic.

The world No. 1 simply played world No. 1 from the third set and, in a complete turnaround, was quickly on his way to winning his 19th Grand Slam and becoming the first in 52 years to pocket all four majors twice after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.

“It was very strange,” said the 6-foot-4 Tsitsipas, just 22, from mythical Athens. “Suddenly, I just felt cold and out of it. It was difficult to readjust. I felt like I kind of lost my game.”

Witchcraft at work? Ummm.

Djokovic, who will defend his Wimbledon crown in two weeks, said: “The atmosphere was amazing. A few days ago against Rafa (Nadal) and today against Stefanos—unforgettable moments for me, for my career, for my life. I’ll definitely remember these last 48 hours for the rest of my life.”

If Nadal was Mt. Everest, was Tsitsipas a mere molehill?