There was no need for an electromagnetic device to see the nerves that lay splashed out on court this Sunday. It was a big final – Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were both chasing a maiden crown at Roland Garros. The Serbian was also courting history and greatness, by attempting to complete his collection of Grand Slam trophies. Murray was the first Brit in the final since, you guessed it right – Fred Perry in 1937.
Murray threatened to steal the thunder in Paris, but Djokovic refused to surrender to the audacity of his opponent. The Serbian’s steely focus and powerful ground-strokes propelled him into rarefied orbit. Djokovic is only the eighth man in the long history of tennis to accomplish a Career Slam.
Even more significant was the fact that Djokovic became only the third man ever to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. Donald Budge and Rod Laver could soon have company, given his dominant run this season. The Serbian could scale an insurmountable peak, if he can complete the Golden Slam by winning the Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open.
Djokovic appeared flustered by the weight of the opportunity – playing some sluggish and unconvincing tennis even on serve. Murray took advantage, playing with a measure of confidence to snatch the first set and take the initiative.
The world No 1 showed why he has been the biggest force in tennis when he steadied his rocking boat with resilient tennis in the second set. Faced with the loss of the first, Djokovic shook off any lingering effects as only champions can – playing deeper and sharper.
Djokovic changed his game by playing on or inside the baseline, using his wrist to produce the angles needed to stretch Murray and open the court for the kill. It takes strength of character and presence of mind to be a champion – Djokovic was showcasing both elements as he worked his way back into the match.
With his nose in front after a good opening set, Murray needed to serve well, especially off his first delivery. Unfortunately for the Scot, he wasn’t even bringing 60 percent of them into play. Aggression and a steady hand off the ground had carried Murray to the summit clash in Paris. The Scot gave up any hopes of victory when he eschewed the very aggression that bought him success this fortnight and turned back to playing defensive against Djokovic, from behind the baseline. The fact that his first serve percentage wasn’t high enough also played into the hands of Djokovic, and he was outplayed after the initial stutter.
Finals are more about character than skill and Murray showed why at the start of the fourth set. The Scot dissolved into a mumbling mess, arguing with the umpire instead of staying glued to his tennis. Slumping shoulders and wobbling feet indicated the state of his mind, even as he muttered to himself like an aimless man. Even then, it took Djokovic heavy cushion to complete his collection of slams. It took a fourth match-point eventually, but soon as he sank to the red dirt on his back, we were watching the undisputed king of the post Federer era.
Djokovic stands head and shoulders above his peers. The French Open on Sunday was his fifth Grand Slam title in the last six majors. He has amassed 16,950 points including the four Grand Slams and five Masters’ series titles. Murray has 8,915 points, Roger Federer has 6,655 and Rafael Nadal has just 5,405. If Djokovic just sat home through Christmas, he’d still be toasting as the World No. 1
At 12 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic is now just two behind Nadal and five behind the gold standard of 17 set by Federer. Those numbers could all turn irrelevant if Djokovic conceives the strength needed to win Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open this year. A ‘Golden Calendar Slam’ would nearly certainly seal his legacy in the GOAT argument that has consumed the tennis world since the arrival of Federer.
This is unparalleled dominance – Djokovic has reached the finals in 21 of the past 22 big events (Grand Slams, Masters’ series and World Tour Finals). He has won a staggering 17 of those titles. He lost nine of eleven finals he contested against Federer and Nadal till 2010. Since then though he has owned both men, irrespective of the stage.
Djokovic leads Nadal 26-23, 23-22 over Federer and a dominant 24-10 over Murray. That is a mighty record against his strongest contemporaries, especially considering his clear dominance over them during the past five years.
Only time will tell where Djokovic reaches on his journey of greatness in tennis. For the moment though, it is time for fans to savour some of the most dominant tennis the sport has ever witnessed. The season has taken on a golden hue with Djokovic’s triumph in Paris. The world will watch with interest as Djokovic continues his quest for the Calendar Slam, starting with Wimbledon this month.