They are the tennis twins. Born a week apart, chasing each other around the globe for a lifetime in search of trophies, rankings points and glory; playing much the same game in much the same way and constantly butting heads for the titles that matter.
But as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, the current No.1 and the former No.1, left Roland Garros this year, they were worlds apart.
A year ago, Djokovic was king of all he surveyed. He had just beaten Murray to win the French Open and now he held all four Grand Slam trophies at once. He was only the third man ever to achieve such a feat. He was invincible; he was not only the best player in the world, he was one the greatest players in history.
Where Djokovic had completed his career Grand Slam, Murray had taken up his usual position one step behind the Serb. He, too, had passed another milestone: he had now competed in the final of all four major tournaments. And he had lost in them all, too. Yet everything was about to change.
Within a fortnight, Murray was winning again, pocketing the Queen’s Club title, marching on to Wimbledon and his second trophy there and then beginning his ascent of the rankings mountain to push Djokovic off the peak by the end of the year. Djokovic, meanwhile, was in a dwam after achieving his lifetime goal. He still is.
Like all twins, where one goes the other follows and Murray, too, struggled after claiming the No.1 ranking. But while the illnesses and injury were frustrating, it was the lack of direction and motivation that flummoxed him.
But that is where the similarities end. True enough, both men left Paris frustrated – Djokovic beaten in the quarter-finals by Dominic Thiem and Murray beaten in the semi-finals by Stan Wawrinka – but their demeanour could not have been any more different.
As Ivan Lendl left the Court Phillipe Chatrier on Friday, he was all smiles, laughing and joking with the rest of the team. The match may have been lost, but he had just watched his player compete with every ounce of strength that he had for four-and-a-half hours. He had fought, he had scrapped; he had competed physically and he had played tactically. He had lost but that was no disgrace – Lendl could be satisfied that his man was back on track.
With no time to waste, Lendl and Murray headed straight to London and the two will be on the practice courts at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon tomorrow.
Djokovic, on the other hand, stumbled out of Roland Garros sounding and looking lost. He was not so much beaten as crushed by Thiem, throwing away the third and final set 6-0.
Afterwards, he was not sure whether he should take a complete break from tennis or whether he should add a warm-up tournament to his schedule before Wimbledon. As for his newly signed super-coach, Andre Agassi – he was long gone.
Agassi had joined forces with Djokovic just three days before the Open but could not stick around for long. With prior and more pressing engagements to attend to, he left Djokovic to his own devices in the second week of the tournament. And as he left Roland Garros for the last time, Djokovic was only “hoping” to see Agassi before Wimbledon. Nothing was set in stone.
Pat Cash, who is in town as part of the Eurosport commentary team, had a long chat with Agassi at the start of the tournament and could not quite believe what he was hearing. Unlike Murray, who counts his ability to read, dissect and counter his opponent’s tactics as one of his greatest strengths, Djokovic thinks only about himself. That means that when Djokovic is playing badly or lacking inspiration, there is nothing to fall back on.
“Andre was quite surprised – and I was quite surprised – at how much Novak actually still has to learn about competing with the other guy,” Cash said. “You’d think this guy has won four grand slams in a row but Andre was saying when a certain situation comes up Novak is not thinking of what the other guy is feeling or the pressure. Andre was saying: ‘you know what, there’s still a lot for him to learn on the tennis court’.”
That is in stark contrast to Murray’s improvement during the French Open. Although he did not play particularly well in the first couple of rounds, he was thinking on the court; he was able to find a way to win ugly. With each passing round, another facet of his game was polished and presented to the opposition and by the time he got to Friday, he was able to play the match of the tournament so far against Wawrinka. Only one of them could win and the fact that it wasn’t Murray is of no concern – the grass courts season is coming and that is where Murray feels at home.
“On the grass I’ll hopefully move well, that’s an important part of my game and something I struggled with at a few points during this clay season,” he said. “And the serve. That’s something I struggled with the last couple of months. I served fairly well in Paris but on the grass it’s obviously a huge part of the game – if you serve well it can make a huge difference.”
Murray strode off to south west London and a week of hard work before the start of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club. Djokovic headed off he knew not where. The current and former world No.1 – they may be the tennis twins but they are anything but identical.