Novak Djokovic Wins Roland Garros Leave History for Later Let’s Talk About Now
Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to win his first Roland Garros trophy, complete the Career Grand Slam, and hold all four Grand Slams at once. It was a historic win, but like Novak Djokovic himself had to do to finally lift the Roland Garros trophy, we should leave the history for later, and focus on the moment.
Forgetting his own history in Paris, and the history he could achieve by winning, was the only way Djokovic was ever going to experience the beautiful moment that would come with winning his first Roland Garros trophy.
Three times the Serbian had been one match away from joining Don Budge, Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Rafa Nadal in the Career Grand Slam Club, and each time the occasion, his opponents, his body, and his own doubts, had overwhelmed him.
On his fourth chance, Djokovic had Murray in his way, and was, like he had been in 2014 and 2015, expected to have his moment with the Roland Garros trophy.
However, Murray, like Wawrinka and Nadal before him, was in the mood to seize that moment for himself, fighting back from losing his serve in the opening game to break for 1-1 with a signature lob. The Scot then held to love, broke Djokovic again and held all the way to 5-2.
Such a commanding performance from Murray, playing his first Roland Garros final after a career best clay season, fired up the Scot who had enough intensity and shot-making prowess for both himself and a seemingly subdued and error-prone Djokovic.
Murray did not look he was going to suffer a letdown either, as he has been known to do after giving his all in big matches versus Djokovic. At the start of the second set, the second seed held a break point in the opening game.
What followed was not so much a letdown, but Djokovic doing what he does so well. The subdued player in the first set was perhaps not subdued because he was afraid he would not perform. He was just biding his time until the moment came his way to get into gear. The moment arrived, Djokovic fought back, held serve, and a Murray double-fault gave him a 2-0 second set lead.
Djokovic dropped just one game as he took the second set 6-1 with a perfectly timed spin laden ace down the tee.
A story we all know only too well was now playing out as Djokovic went to work tiring Murray out emotionally and physically, moving Murray round the court with depth of shot and angles, opening the court with his backhand down the line, and taking away the time the Scot needed to play aggressively and mix things up.
Djokovic was now in full control. Leading 3-1, Djokovic ran down a Murray drop shot and returned it for a winner- the most heartening shot for the Serb, the most dispiriting blow for the Scot, the balance of power laid bare in a single exchange as the Serbian strode on to take the third set 6-2.
While history was repeating itself, we were also in unknown territory- Djokovic leading a Roland Garros final by two sets to one.
The Serb enjoyed this rare moment of success in a Paris final. Dialed into the precision and placement on his serve and ground-strokes needed to survive the heavy conditions and the defense of Murray, the world No.1 served for the Roland Garros title at 5-2.
It was not just the title on the very close finish line though. With it came plenty more- the Career slam and the Non Calendar Year Grand Slam, no less. The hours of chatter on those matters drowned out the clarity so needed in that brief moment to produce the tennis that had taken Djokovic to his current position- a service game away from the French Open title-in the first place.
If doubts crept into Djokovic’s mind, Murray shook off his own tiring ones to break back, and then held serve.
Djokovic had a second chance to serve for the title, but on the first point his head was still in the past. The top seed fell behind 0-15 as, after a long rally, a backhand went long.
On the next one, Djokovic let go of the last error, defended well, and, his head now on his shoulders, his mind thinking clearly, hit a winning drop shot for 15-15.
That fine play pushed Djokovic closer to the finish line, and at 30-15, moving forward and defending the net, a smash forced a Murray error and earned him two match points.
The first one, 11 bounces before delivering the second serve, a flash-back to the ball-bouncing Djokovic who won his first slam in Melbourne 8 years ago, resulted in a double fault.
The second match point was an error, and the score was back to deuce.
No one thought sealing that Roland Garros title, with all the history, both past and potential that came with it, was going to be easy. Not until something clicked in Djokovic’s mind and woke him up from wherever his head was and brought it back to the there and then.
And then it clicked.
Djokovic served out wide, hit a forehand down the line, came in and took the ball out the air. The right play, at the right time. The moment had come, and he jumped in.
On the third match point, Djokovic got back every ball Murray urged him to error on, before going down the line and forcing Murray into error instead, a familiar play, earning Djokovic the unfamiliar feeling of winning a Roland Garros title.
A rare moment of first time pleasure in a career now rolling on the back of repeated success after repeated success. A moment that saw Djokovic lose his legs as he staggered mid-court and drew a heart into the Clay, lying down in it, a tribute to what he said had been his most beautiful moment at Roland Garros, watching Gustavo Kuerten draw the same heart.
Djokovic now has a new beautiful Roland Garros moment – his own.
Let’s not lose that moment, of Djokovic winning his first Roland Garros, in all the talk about history, of best-evers.
Whether or not Djokovic is the best ever is open for a debate best left until he is retired. Going over it now is like performing an autopsy on a healthy, robust, and still hungry tennis player. One whose heart, left out on the Roland Garros Clay and then drawn into it, beats as loud for the sport now as it did during that first slam win back in 2008.
Instead, let’s talk about right now. For while Djokovic’s place in history is up for debate, his current status as the best in the sport, a status beautifully updated when he held aloft that hard earned Roland Garros trophy, lit up by a Sun finally showing its face, is anything but, and should, like that Sun, be enjoyed while it lasts.
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