At long last, the kid who left war-torn Serbia to become the best tennis player on the planet has conquered Paris – the final frontier in his pursuit to become the best tennis player of all time. It may still take a few years before people can declare with authority that Novak Djokovic is the greatest ever, but nobody will bet against that debate anymore. For, on a gloomy Sunday at Roland Garros in Paris, the only tournament he had never won before, in his fourth final on this red clay, Djokovic joined the pantheon of all-time masters.
Djokovic outlasted his long-time rival and childhood adversary Andy Murray over four dogged sets in the Brit’s first final here. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty, especially after the Serb dropped the first set looking completely out of sorts. But it was only a matter of time before Murray’s five extra hours on court over two weeks were going to catch up with his legs. Djokovic switched gears, as he so often has done in Slam finals over the last two years, and did the job clinically, winning the next three sets 6-1, 6-2 and 6-4, as Murray – not for the first time – faded away on the biggest stage. Much will be written about Murray’s bridesmaid career, but this will hurt once again, for he completed the dreaded runner-up slam, losing in all four Slam finals at least once.
But it wasn’t going to be about Murray, despite him defeating Djokovic in Rome only three weeks ago. It wasn’t going to be about him, despite him having the best clay-court record in 2016 – an achievement nobody in his own house would have even dreamed of two years ago when he had pulled out of clay season to concentrate on his “stronger” surfaces of grass and hard court. He has improved his game leaps and bounds on the slowest surface, and is genuinely one of the best all-around players in the game. If only he wasn’t born in the same era as a certain Novak Djokovic.
After three hours and some on Center Court, Novak Djokovic fell to the red clay and processed what he was supposed to achieve a year ago. Wawrinka had broken his heart with an inhuman performance last year, but this time, he was not to be denied. At age 29, he had finally completed a career Grand Slam – in the era of Rafael Nadal, in the era of Roger Federer and in the era of Andy Murray. As a tribute to his long-time hero and friend Gustavo Kuerten – the popular Brazilian ex-French Open triple champion – he drew a heart with his racket and lay down in between, offering his feelings to the capacity crowd who had gathered to watch history being made.
He is now in the unique position to pull of the “Novak Slam” – a Golden Year that includes all four Slam titles (he has won 2 already) as well as the Olympic Gold Medal at Rio. This could well be the most path breaking year in men’s tennis history yet, after 2015, where Djokovic won three slams and 6 Masters titles.
Here’s a list of numbers that put into perspective the fledging career of a player who could well end on top of Federer and Nadal and everyone else:
12 – Number of Grand Slams won by Novak Djokovic, fourth most ever.
6 – Slams won out of 8, in the last two years.
8 – Slam finals reached out of 9, in the last two years.
5 – World Tour Finals won by him, 1 behind Federer.
8 – Player in history to win the Career Slam, 4th man in Open era after Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
3 – Player in history to hold all four titles at once, and the first since Rod Laver in 1969. Not even Federer and Nadal have achieved this. Federer lost the 2009 US Open Final to JM Del Potro, or he would have held all four at once too.
20 – Grand Slam Finals reached by Djokovic; he has lost 8.
8 – The only men’s Singles player to win 8 out of 9 Masters events, and the only to reach all 9 finals. He has lost four times in the Cincinnati Final.
29 – Current age, and the second oldest in the Open Era after Agassi (also 29) to win the Career Slam. Federer was 28 when he won the French Open in 2009, and Nadal 24 when he won the US Open in 2010.
1 – the First player to reach 100 million dollars this week in prize money. Federer is second on 98.6.