April 20, 2020
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both look back on 2016 with a tinge of regret – even though it was such a triumphant year for them.
That’s the winning mentality they share.
To earn your place among the elite, you don’t just have to be hungry for success. You need to be positively greedy.
Their recent Instagram conversation was remarkable for its candour.
Like the rest of us, Djokovic and Murray sometimes just wish they had done things better.
Two magnificent players who have won so much. Both honest enough to reveal that they too sometimes think: “Damn! If only!”
Crazy isn’t it?
After all, Novak didn’t just win the Australian Open in 2016. He took the French Open for the first time. A Career Slam in the bag. Ground-breaking delight.
Andy Murray won a second Olympic gold medal in 2016. And there is nothing the proud Brit loves more than winning the Olympics.
And yet when both players were asked to go back in time and change one big moment in their careers, they both chose that same year.
Andy’s pick for the one that got away is surprising. You would have thought he would have chosen the Australian Open.
After all, Murray has lost the Aussie Open final five times – four of those to Djokovic.
Instead Andy chose his French Open final defeat to Novak as his biggest regret.
And not just because he won the first set and then faded in a painful 6-3, 1-6, 2-6, 4-6 reverse.
Murray clearly realises that Rafael Nadal’s enforced withdrawal with a wrist problem before the third round in 2016 created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Roland Garros.
Murray said: ‘Obviously I would have loved to have won the Australian Open. And Australia has been pretty painful thanks to you over the years.’
At this point Novak smiled sympathetically in acknowledgement of the way he defeated Murray in the Melbourne showpieces of 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Andy added: ‘But the French was a challenge for me, because clay was such a tough surface for me throughout my career, and in terms of the way I play on clay, it was the hardest one for me to adapt to.
‘So for me I think that it would have been my biggest achievement if I had managed to win the French.
‘So yeah if I could change one, I would take the final of the French Open off you.’
But Novak seemed to agonise over his failure to do himself justice at the 2016 Olympics even more.
Djokovic reflected: ‘I won all the Slams and Masters and a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.
‘But I was feeling really good about myself in 2016 in Rio, Brazil.
‘I mean I did lose the third round of Wimbledon (to Sam Querrey), so I had enough time to get ready for the Olympics.
‘I went to Canada and won and I came to Rio full of confidence.’
Djokovic had beaten Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-5 to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Wimbledon had been but a brief blip. Now he looked unbeatable once more.
‘I had the fifteen best months of my career behind me before Rio,’ Novak said, as though he still couldn’t quite believe what had happened.
Andy was sympathetic because Novak was unlucky with his first-round opponent. ‘You had a tough draw, to be fair.’
Djokovic agreed: ‘Del Potro, who went on to play you in the finals, was a very tough match. Two tie-breaks.’
Juan Martin del Potro beat the strong favourite 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2). A perfectionist like Novak still looks back at his preparations even now to see what went wrong.
And Djokovic seems to have decided there was an element of overkill.
‘I remember I was practising for two hours for singles on the Centre Court. And then I went to practise doubles with the Serb guys for another hour, or maybe an hour-and-a-half.
‘And I started to feel my wrist at the end of the doubles sets that we played and it started to be more painful.
‘I don’t want this to sound like an excuse because I was enabled to play (Del Potro) by some injections.
‘But I felt really sad that I wasn’t at my best. And if I’d had a slightly better draw I could have kind of worked my way into the tournament.
‘So if I had the chance to turn back time and maybe change the outcomes it would probably be Rio, or London with you in 2012.’
Murray beat Djokovic 7-5, 7-5 in the Olympic semi-final in London. Novak lost the bronze medal match to his Olympic nemesis, Del Potro.
But you sense it is 2016 that still hurts most. The gold medal that should really have been his, at least in Novak’s own mind.
There for the taking, as the best player in the world.
But Murray got gloriously greedy for Great Britain instead. That’s tennis.
There is no doubt. Novak Djokovic and Sir Andy Murray respect each other. Partly because they have hurt each other in competition.
Novak has hurt Andy more often. But that definitely doesn’t mean Djokovic feels the pain any less when his own dreams are dashed.