June 5, 2016
Salute the History Man. Novak Djokovic enjoyed what he described as ‘perhaps the greatest day of my career’ – as playing time finally caught up with Andy Murray.
Now Djokovic has done what not even Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal did in their prime. He holds all four Grand Slams at the same time. No one has done that since Rod Laver in 1969. Only Don Budge managed it before Laver did it twice. And of course Novak has finally achieved that elusive Career Slam.
No wonder he staggered about and fell onto the clay once more, as though intoxicated by the experience. Then came the laughter.
Djokovic had been dreaming of winning here for years – but even more intensely since his stunning defeat to Stan Wawrinka in last year’s final. Now Novak really has it all. Does life get any better than that?
If anyone doubted Novak’s right to join the greats, they have to give him full credit now. How desperately he wanted to add the French and complete the set.
Maybe he wanted it too much, because in the first set, despite breaking to love in the opening game, he often played like a stranger to the forehand. He was buckling under the weight of expectation as Murray romped into a 4-1 lead.
Djokovic became fired up when Murray’s serve was belatedly called good and the point awarded to the Brit instead of a let being played.
But Andy was still holding firm at that stage and he closed out the set 6-3. Novak had made 13 unforced errors and won just a quarter of points behind his second serve.
Murray, on the other hand, was playing with an aggression and confidence that showed he felt he had nothing to lose.
Could the world number two maintain his form to pull off something of an upset? Either the realisation that he was on the verge of something sensational made him tighten, or else physical reality came into play.
Murray had played nearly five hours’ more tennis to reach the final than Djokovic. Those extra hours and the nervous tension of an electric occasion began to take their toll – almost imperceptibly at first.
Novak struggled to hold serve at the start of the second and Murray was only broken by his own double fault. But from there, the confidence and ruthlessness flowed back into the Serb, whose deft work at the net was a joy for neutrals to behold.
All the old doubts seemed to creep back into Murray as fatigue set in. You thought back to his five-setters in the early rounds and his wasteful drop-shot strategy against Richard Gasquet. There wasn’t much left in the tank.
Murray’s aggression had susbsided and he hit just three winners to Novak’s eleven in a second set won 6-1 by Djokovic in just 33 minutes. Andy wasn’t daring to dream any more.
When the Brit dabbed a simple volley into the net to be broken in the third, you sensed it was a mortal blow. Djokovic, so delicate yet so devastating at the net in contrast, raced away with that set too, 6–2. He was nearly there.
It was time to reflect on the fragility of Murray’s self-belief against this fine player. But it was also time to salute a very complete adversary, Novak Djokovic, a man who was finally receiving due reward and recognition for a sparkling career that is far from done.
Novak isn’t quite Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest sportsman of all time, who sadly passed away this same weekend. But Djokovic has a fighting spirit second to none in world sport these days.
For all is admirable personal qualities, and despite breaking back when Novak led 5-2 in the fourth, Murray isn’t quite made of the same ruthless material. He had given his all as Novak closed out 6-4. Andy’s best was formidable – but it wasn’t enough. Djokovic was king of Roland Garros at last.
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