Indomitable Djokovic lies with the legends

Novak Djokovic celebrates  victory before consoling Andy Murray and high-fiving ballboys and girls on his way to being presented with  the trophy. Picture: PA

Novak Djokovic celebrates victory before consoling Andy Murray and high-fiving ballboys and girls on his way to being presented with the trophy. Picture: PA

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History sucks. There was no other way to describe it. For the fifth time in a grand slam final, Andy Murray had lost to Novak Djokovic. And it sucked.

This final was different, though. This was Murray’s first French Open final – he was the first British man to reach a Roland Garros final since 1937 – while, for Djokovic, it was his first French Open victory. And by claiming it, he completed his career Grand Slam and the non-calendar Grand Slam.

What Djokovic has achieved is phenomenal. Winning all four grand slams in one year is an amazing achievement. It’s so rare in tennis. For me personally, it sucks to lose the match. But I’m proud to have been a part of today

ANDY MURRAY

Only two other men have held all four major titles at once – Don Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 – while only seven other men have managed to win each of the four big trophies at some point in their career. By beating Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, Djokovic was now, officially, one of the legends of the sport he has dominated for the past two years. History had been made and Murray had been a part of it.

“What he has achieved is phenomenal,” Murray said. “Winning all four grand slams in one year is an amazing achievement. It’s so rare in tennis: it hasn’t happened for a very long time and it 
will take a long time for it to happen again.

“For me personally, being on the other side of the net, it sucks to lose the match. But I’m proud to have been a part of today.”

For Djokovic, the Coupe des Mousquetaires was his Holy Grail. He is the best player in the world, streets ahead of Murray, the No 2, in terms of ranking points and now with 12 grand slam titles to his name, he is fast homing in on Roger Federer’s record of 17 major trophies. And yet he craves the love and the respect that is accorded to the likes of Federer and Rafael Nadal; by completing his career Grand Slam, he was now their equal. By securing the non-calendar grand slam, he had now bettered them.

It was, he thought, a “very special moment, perhaps the biggest of my career”. And the manner of his victory marked him out as a very special champion, possibly one of the biggest in his sport.

With so much riding on the outcome, it was hardly surprising that Djokovic looked nervous at the start of the match. Murray, too, was edgy as he tamely dropped his serve in the opening game. But then he was given the break back the next game as Djokovic could not land a first serve 
and could not find the court. Murray perked up.

Trying to kick on from where he left off against Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals, Murray was doing what he knew he should: serving well, leaning into his returns and pulling the Serb all over the court. For 48 minutes, the Scot was the 
better player and the world 
No 1 looked worried.

When Murray held a break point in the opening game of the second set, the huge Serbian contingent in the extremely boisterous crowd were concerned. They should have had more faith in their man – Djokovic relaxed and started to play like a champion in waiting. The Serb was all but untouchable for the next set and a half, an hour-long spell during which he ripped the heart out of the match and the life out of his opponent. As the Scot’s first serve percentage began to slide, he was forced on to the back foot. No point was going to be easy against Djokovic but it became almost impossible when he was spending most of his time on the defensive. Suddenly, the 17 hours and 50 minutes Murray had spent on court just getting to the final began to catch up with him (Djokovic took five hours less time to book his date with history) and the world 
No 1 was now in total control.

By the start of the fourth set, Murray was complaining to the umpire about Spider Cam – his pet peeve – and how it was distracting him when he served. But what was really wearing him down was Spider-Man at the other end of the court. Like the comic book superhero, Djokovic appeared to have special powers: superhuman strength, reflexes and balance; the ability to cling tenaciously to most surfaces; and a subconscious precognitive sense of danger. When Murray threatened, Djokovic repelled him. When Murray attacked, Djokovic disarmed him. And then, when finally Murray threw everything he had left at the soon-to-be champion, Djokovic just about held on to his nerve.

Having dominated the match for the best part of three sets, Djokovic seemed remarkably calm as he went to serve for the title – he was smiling at the change of ends and as he took the balls from the ballboy. A couple of minutes later, the smile had gone as Murray chased and harried and found a few last ounces of strength to launch his final charge: he broke Djokovic, held his own serve and then set about his old foe one last time as Djokovic tried to serve for the match again. But it was too late. Murray was too far behind to make an impact and all he was doing was delaying the inevitable.

When at last Murray put a backhand into the net on Djokovic’s third match point, the new champion fell on his back. He could not believe that his dream had come true and, briefly, he did not know what to do with himself. And then he drew a huge heart on the clay court and lay in the middle of it. This was the best moment of his professional life. As he lifted the trophy, the sun even shone (a rarity in a rain-sodden fortnight). This really was history in the making. But for Andy Murray, it still sucked.

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