Tuesday 16 January 2018

Djokovic Slams his way into history

Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after fighting back from being a set down to beat Andy Murray at Roland Garros in the final of the French Open. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after fighting back from being a set down to beat Andy Murray at Roland Garros in the final of the French Open. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Newman

Even the sun finally came out as history was made at the French Open, but the name that will go into the record books is that of Novak Djokovic rather than Andy Murray.

The 29-year-old Serb became the first man for 47 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles when he beat Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to win at Roland Garros for the first time.

Murray, who was aiming to become only the second British winner of the event, was ultimately outplayed by his long-time rival, who may well eventually come to be regarded as the greatest player of all time. Djokovic's 12th Grand Slam title leaves him just five short of Roger Federer's all-time record and closing fast.


Having lost in his previous three finals on Court Philippe Chatrier, Djokovic finally succeeded in his attempt to become only the eighth man in history - after Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Federer - to win all four Grand Slam titles.

The Serb is the first man since Laver in 1969 to win four Grand Slam titles in succession and is now halfway to becoming only the third man ever - after Budge and Laver - to win a pure Grand Slam of the sport's four major titles in the same year.

It says everything about the quality of the current era that three of the 'Big Four' are among the eight men who have won the 'career Grand Slam'. That also underlines what an achievement it is for Murray to be part of such an elite group.

Although Murray beat Djokovic in the final when he won his two Grand Slam titles - at the US Open and Wimbledon - this was his fifth defeat to the Serb in Grand Slam finals.

Victory over Djokovic in their most recent encounter, in last month's Rome Masters final, and an outstanding performance in beating Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals had raised hopes that Murray might become the first male British singles champion here since Perry in 1936, but in the end the world No 1 was an emphatic winner.

After the first set the Serb played superbly, dictating the rallies and putting Murray under relentless pressure.

Murray started to look tired from the second set onwards and may have paid the price for his earlier exertions in the tournament. The world No 2 had dropped six sets en route to the final compared with Djokovic's one.

There are times when Murray can be the king of the drop shot, but he was usurped here. Djokovic played his drop shots beautifully, sometimes from behind the baseline, and repeatedly chased down Murray's best efforts.

The world No 1 would not only pick up Murray's drop shots but also play some stunning winners, usually flicked cross-court with an exquisite touch.

Djokovic also had the upper hand when it came to returning serve. The world No 1 attacked Murray's second serve with particular venom, often forcing the Scot to play half-volleys from the baseline.

Murray's improved serve has been one of the features of his game this year, but he did not serve so well here.

Given that this has been one of the wettest and gloomiest French Opens in living memory, tournament organisers must have been relieved to see it finish on time.

For days the weather forecasters had predicted thunderstorms around the time of the men's final, but instead the skies were calm, even if there was no sign of the sun until the presentation ceremony at the end.

The majority of the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier were behind Djokovic. Murray had no complaints about that, but was not happy about the number of times when spectators called out as he was about to serve. He also complained about the overhead 'spidercam' camera and was distracted towards the end of the second set by the presence of a French TV personality, Nelson Monfort, sitting next to his entourage. Murray could hardly have made a worse start, dropping his serve to love in the opening game, but broke back immediately.

Two games later he broke again, taking advantage of some uncharacteristically loose play by a nervous-looking Djokovic, and went on to serve out for the set after 45 minutes. He did so despite a lengthy interruption and prolonged booing from the crowd after the umpire, Damien Dumusois, ruled that a missed Djokovic return had not been affected by an erroneous call of "out" on a Murray serve.

Everything changed at the start of the second set. In the opening game Murray forced a break point after turning stonewall defence into thrilling attack. Djokovic, however, won the next point with a smash after Murray suffered a bad bounce. After holding serve, the world No 1 broke in the next game. Murray went two break points down when he put an attempted drop shot in the net and double-faulted on the second of them.


The momentum quickly swung in favour of Djokovic. Murray saved two break points two games later, but at 1-4 was broken again.

Under pressure in almost every service game after that, Murray could have done without his mistake on break point in the third game of the third set, when he put what should have been a routine volley into the net. Djokovic again hit a winner after retrieving a drop shot to make his second break of the set in the fifth game. Murray, refusing to give in, forced four break points in the following game but could not convert any of them.

Djokovic broke once again in the opening game of the fourth set after hitting a succession of damaging returns. Murray hung on grimly, but when he served at 2-4 he was broken again, this time to love. Nevertheless, the Scot can always be guaranteed to fight to the last. When Djokovic served for the match at 5-2 Murray broke him, hitting a winning forehand cross-court pass on break point.

Murray held in the next game, after which Djokovic had a second chance to serve out for the match - and history - which he duly did. (© Independent News Service)

Muguruza flies flag for Spain

When Rafael Nadal pulled out of the French Open because of injury after the second round, Spanish tennis was in shock. "We all saw the news," Garbine Muguruza said on Saturday night. "We were like, 'Oh, Roland Garros will not be the same'. I said to my coach, 'Federer and Nadal are not here. What's it going to be like when they're not playing? It's going to be a disaster'."

How wrong Muguruza was proved to be as the 22-year-old Spaniard herself went on to register her first Grand Slam triumph, beating Serena Williams 7-5, 6-4 in the final after a memorable performance of controlled aggression.

Spain has long had a tradition of success here, thanks to the likes of Manuel Santana, Sergi Bruguera, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Nadal, but Muguruza, who has a Venezuelan mother and a Spanish father, is not in the same tradition as most of her compatriots. Being 6ft tall and having long arms and legs, she does not look like a typical Spanish player.

In the final, Muguruza attacked from the start, driving Williams back with a succession of thumping ground strokes to foil the American's attempt to match Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles.

In winning her first Grand Slam title, Muguruza reversed the result of her only other appearance in a Grand Slam final, when she lost to Williams at Wimbledon last summer. The 22-year-old said: "I have watched Serena since I was a child, but you've got to forget about that because if not, you are not going to play."

Muguruza will go to number two in the world rankings and knows she will be a marked player now. "I prefer to be hunted than to be the other way around," she said. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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