Fans will remember this year’s Roland Garros final — in which Novak Djokovic rallied past Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets — for years to come. Getty Images photographer Julian Finney was there to document it, with one of his images from the match recently being named one of TIME’s Top 100 Photos of 2021.
Finney captured Tsitsipas sliding into a backhand slice on Court Philippe Chatrier, with a pocket of light shining perfectly on the Greek as if he were under a spotlight. According to the photographer, the moment came “out of nowhere”.
“The usual nice light us photographers love had gone from the court as the sun was beginning to go down behind the stadium. Without a fifth set this picture wouldn’t have been possible,” Finney said. “I was aware of new pockets of light formed by the new centre court construction, but what occurred at this split moment was something I didn’t plan for. It’s one of those golden moments that comes and goes very quickly.
“What was so special was the low light beaming through a gangway in the stadium above whilst at the same time it was also reflecting off a window up a few rows behind me. Stefanos was also playing a low sliding backhand in the very limited spot of light. It all came together. It is the kind of lighting you’d expect from a studio set up.”
Finney, who was using a 24-70mm lens, knew as soon as he shot the image that he “had something special”, which was rewarding.
“When in that moment Stefanos played this particular shot low and sliding into this spot on the court, I couldn’t believe it paid off to shoot it loosely cropped,” Finney said. “The way the light is flaring through, the very certain spot he played the shot, the timing, his white top helped elevate the reflection of the light, [everything worked]. I knew as soon as I looked at the back of my camera I had a very special image.
“One friend mentioned it having a feel of a Caravaggio painting, quite the compliment! I also think the fact no one else got the same image, [which does not happen often] these days, is something to treasure.”