Andy Murray is hoping the familiar feel of grass under his feet can help him turn the tables on Novak Djokovic.
Murray and Djokovic met in the final of the French Open for the first time on Sunday but it was a familiar story.
As in their Australian Open finals of 2013 and 2015, early optimism that it might be Murray’s day gave way to admiration at the stellar level of Djokovic.
In his first Roland Garros final, Murray won the opening set but the match quickly ran away from him and a battling finish could not save him from a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 defeat.
Djokovic also beat Murray in the Australian Open final in January and has now defeated the Scot in five of his 10 finals.
The last time Murray got the better of his great rival at a slam was in the final of Wimbledon three years ago, and grass is the only surface where he can claim an upper hand.
They also played at the All England Club in the semi-finals of the Olympics in 2012, where Murray triumphed in straight sets before crushing Roger Federer to win the gold medal.
“We only played twice on grass, I won both those matches,” said Murray. “I have played some of my best tennis on clay, for sure, over the last few weeks and definitely the last couple of years. Hopefully that translates well on to the grass, which is a surface that comes way, way more naturally to me.
“I will try to have a good run on the grass. If we meet on the grass, I’ll try and learn from the last few weeks’ matches and see things I could have done better.”
Murray, who defends his title at Queen’s Club in a week’s time, will also surely welcome a bit of home support.
He found himself up against tough opponents and the crowd the majority of the time at Roland Garros.
After facing two Frenchmen in Mathias Bourgue and Richard Gasquet and Francophone defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals, Murray might have hoped for some underdog support in the final.
But Court Philippe Chatrier resembled a corner of Belgrade as the massed ranks of Serbian fans finally roared their man to victory.
In the final game of the opening set, the crowd showed their displeasure at a decision by umpire Damien Dumusois by whistling loudly every time Murray tried to serve.
“That was obviously tough,” said the world No 2, who spent the first few days of the tournament answering questions about his temperament following comments from former coach Amelie Mauresmo.
“But I handled it well, I think, for the last couple of weeks. It hasn’t always been easy. I wouldn’t have done anything differently, really. It’s good to go through things like that in your career. It toughens you up a little bit. When I go back to playing at Queen’s and then Wimbledon, the atmosphere will be a lot different. It will give me a boost, for sure.”
Becoming the first British man to reach a singles final at Roland Garros since Bunny Austin in 1937 was something Murray never imagined he would be capable of until he found his clay-court form last year.
He can add a French Open final to three ATP Tour titles, two of them at Masters level, and wins over both Rafael Nadal and Federer in the last 14 months.
Gustavo Kuerten, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, believes Murray has a good chance to win the title in the next few years.
The Brazilian said: “Yes, I believe so. At the beginning of his career I thought it would be hard but also we had Rafa more strongly around. I guess for everyone it would be almost impossible.
“Murray, like Novak, what surprised me the most is they put themselves in positions to try to find solutions, try to get better.
“He had a tough year with the surgery on the back and the problems and it’s really hard but he was able to recover fast and now his mentality feels like he’s close.
“We know his game is good enough. It’s just a question of being able to do it more consistently, perhaps not having thrilling matches at the beginning as he always does. Save energy because it felt like his legs didn’t get going after the second set.”