Finally. After four attempts at closing the biggest gap in his resume Novak Djokovic has won his inaugural French Open, defeating Andy Murray of Britain, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
The climax of Djokovic’s struggle to reach the ranks of few first and foremost puts him alongside Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) to have won all four majors consecutively — 2015 Wimbledon, U. S. Open, 2016 Australian Open and now Paris. Additionally the world’s number one joins the ranks of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Budge and Laver to have won all four slams in their tennis careers.
“What he’s achieved today is phenomenal,” Murray told fans on their feet inside Court Philippe Chartrier. “Winning all four Grand Slams in a year is amazing. This is something that is so rare in tennis. It’s going to take a long time to happen again. Everyone who came here is extremely lucky to have seen it. I’m proud to be a part of today.”
Djokovic’s victory raises his total Grand Slam singles titles to 12, in his 12th appearance in Paris. That puts him third in line behind Roger Federer (17), Rafael Nadal (14) and tied with Roy Emerson (12).
The staging for the awards’ presentation transformed the moment as sun shined brightly on le terre battue for the first time in two weeks. To make it even more special, Djokovic drew a heart in the clay then fell on his back inside of it just as Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten had done after winning in 1997, 2000 and 2001.
“I asked him before the match if I could use that, if I won,” Djokovic revealed to the press afterward, as reported on Twitter by The New York Times.
The French Open, of course, remains the hardest to win for most mortals. Witness Djokovic and those greats that never could win one last point: John McEnroe; Jimmy Connors; Pete Sampras; and Boris Becker (Novak’s coach). The comparison shines a brighter light on the master of this clay-court universe, Rafael Nadal, who stands tall with 9 Roland Garros crowns. He is the best we may ever see on this surface. Arguably one of the reasons Federer won his only French Open was Nadal’s loss to Robin Soderling in the 2009 quarterfinals, which opened the draw for the Swiss maestro.
“One of the best and most special moments of my career,” Novak said to fans. “I want to thank you all for your support and passion you shared today.”
He also thanked the people who surround him day in and day out, the people he considers the wind under his wings. “My family. My team. My loves … thank you so much for tolerating everything on a daily basis. There are plenty of things I could talk about but thank you for managing me.”
In all his appearances in Paris, no matter the round being played, Djokovic has never been a French fan favorite. He has been mightily scorned and booed and, at times, for good reasons. However, this year with his ball-kid campaign in gear, Novak won over the skeptics. After each round’s win he called out one or a dozen, like today, ball kids to help throw love into the audience’s hearts.
“I felt a special something with the crowd ever since I arrived in Paris,” he told NBC. “I was hoping I was a class act for the crowds.”
The one person for whom he was a class act today has to be Coach Boris Becker. As said, the German never won Roland Garros. It was the missing link for both. Perhaps that’s why their coaching relationship has produced such prodigious results. Under Becker’s tutelage Novak has won six Grand Slams in two years.
“When I was two points up and lost from deuce, I said I had to do it now,” Djokovic told NBC, recounting the final moments of the match.
Up two breaks in the fourth, he let one game slip as he served for the championship at 5-2. Then at two points away, he gestured for the crowd to return the love he’d thrown their way every round. Nole … Nole … Nole … they chanted, as he wiped his face of sweat. A double fault and a wide backhand raised the notion that Murray could come back and extend things to a fifth set. It wasn’t on Novak’s agenda. He gained the upper hand on the third championship point and brought down the hammer.
As much as Murray dictated points in the opening set, he knew his tennis wasn’t good enough against Djokovic’s near-flawless performance in the last three sets.
“[I was] trying to dictate as many points, but not give him free points,” Murray told Mcenroe about his match plan. “I did a great job at the beginning, but I dropped too far behind the baseline. It sucks to lose the match.”
This was Djokovic’s 20th career major final, which began by winning the Australian Open in 2008. He won in Melbourne five additional times, Wimbledon 3 times, and the U.S. Open twice.
Today, though, tennis fans have to be the biggest winners. In just over two decades we’ve watched the Big Four dominate at every level of tournament: Grand Slams, Masters 1000, Masters 500, and Masters 250. Three of those big guns now own career Grand Slams. One has the highest honor of winning four in a row – Novak Djokovic. It took 47 years to get here. In a game won and lost by points, his achievement stands supreme.
All sports can bathe in this golden era and, hopefully, keep its perspective on what was achieved today. Tennis is an international indulgence that’s gaining respect from broadcast media. Just today NBCSC showed the women’s doubles championship match live. Yesterday, NBC showed the men’s doubles final live.
That’s progress; and, its the result of tennis’s international appeal due to players’ achievements. Tennis can now speak over the sport din and trumpet its virtue with pride, something fans have accepted and known forever.