French Open 2016: History man Djokovic beats Murray to complete Grand Slam set
Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray in four sets to win his first French Open title and complete the career Grand Slam
If you had asked Andy Murray a couple of years ago if he thought he would ever win the French Open title, he would freely have admitted it was a long shot.
First there was the presence of Rafael Nadal, who had taken a grip on clay, and Roland Garros in particular, since he stepped as a teenager onto Philippe Chatrier to win the first of nine titles. The Spaniard would beat Murray in the Briton’s first two semi-final runs here.
Then there was Murray’s back, which had become such a chronic problem—exacerbated by the sliding, twisting movement required by clay—that he resorted to surgery in 2013, the year in which the pain forced him to retire in Rome and withdraw from the French Open entirely.
Then there was his lack of success through years of trying, despite his Grand Slam victories in New York and Wimbledon and repeated finals in Australia. He did not even make a clay tournament final let alone win a title—until last year, when a new back yielded not one but two of them. This year was even better: the semis in Monte-Carlo, the final in Madrid, the title in Rome.
But then there was Novak Djokovic—the man who denied Murray in this third French Open semi last year.
The world No1 by a mile has, of course, been a thorn in the side not just of Murray but of every man on the tour for the last two years. Take last season: 11 titles from 15 finals, and the champion at three Majors, six Masters and the World Tour Finals. He owned 12 titles on clay—but the one missing from his resume was the most prestigious of all: The French Open.
Like Murray, he had been beaten time and again by Nadal, twice in the final, three times in the semis. And just when he got the better of the Spaniard in the quarters last year, and the better of Murray in the semis, he was pounded into submission by an on-fire Stan Wawrinka.
But if history beckoned anyone, it was the Serb. He already had 11 Major titles, and now in his 20th Major final he was looking to own the round dozen. Should he do so, and with the last three Majors already in his pocket, he could become just the third man in history, with Rod Laver and Don Budge, to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time.
In fairness, it was a history-making match for Murray too: He was the first British man into the Roland Garros final since 1937, and could become just the second ever to win the French Open after, as has been the case with almost every Murray record, Fred Perry.
But that word ‘history’ was against Murray and very much with Djokovic. This would be an extraordinary 34th meeting, their ninth in a Grand Slam. Three of those finals had gone the full five sets, three more had gone to four, all of those containing two tie-breakers. Yet Murray had won just two, and not only trailed his nemesis 10-23 but had won just two of their last 14 matches.
This would be their fourth final this year, and only in Rome, with Djokovic coming off the back of a late, long three-setter in the semis, did Murray triumph.
There was also the question of physical resources. While not doubting Murray’s supreme fitness, his early trials here—two five-setters—and his intense four-setters in the quarter-final and semi-final meant he had spent five more hours on court than Djokovic. Would that, in the end, make a difference?
It looked worrying for Murray in the opening game, as Djokovic launched into four super-sharp points to break to love. But that seemed, in turn, to galvanise Murray who replied in kind.
The Briton broke straight back with a superb drop-shot-lob winning play and went on a four-game run with some big serving and blistering returns. Djokovic, for the moment at least, looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Even with the distraction of a reporter in his player’s box, Murray survived several deuces to hold for 5-2, and survived an even bigger disruption to his concentration as the crowd got behind Djokovic on a wrong line call. But after three-quarters of an hour, he had the first set, 6-3.
Now it was Djokovic who got the bit between his teeth, and he fought off a break point in the opening game of the second set and broke for 2-0. His focus was now razor sharp, and he pounced on a growing number of second serves from Murray to break again in the sixth game, and served out the set, 6-1.
The third set started in a similar vein: an easy netted volley from Murray and Djokovic had the break. The Serb held and then broke again with one of a slew of astonishing drop shots. And Murray began to show signs of weariness, while Djokovic came through each and every challenge—three break points to hold for 5-1, for example—and again served out the set, 6-2.
What the title means for Djokovic
· This is his first French Open title in his fourth final
· He is the eighth man ever to complete the career Grand Slam
· He is the third man ever to hold all four Majors simultaneously—and first since 1968
· He has 12 Major titles
· He remains top of season’s list for match-wins, 44-3
· He remains top of season’s list of titles, with six
· He has extended his own record streak in Grand Slam matches to 28: He has not lost since this same day last year
· He has won 55 matches at Roland Garros, three short of third on the all-time list
An immediate break by Djokovic in the fourth set, and he had a head of steam that even a late and gutsy response by Murray could not contain. Djokovic smiled in relief as he broke for 5-2—his insurance—but he needed it, as Murray summoned all his strength to pull one break back and then hold for 4-5.
The world No1 would have a second chance to serve it out, but a tense double fault led to deuce and Djokovic called on the crowd for their support—and he got it. Murray obliged with a netted backhand in the long final rally, and this historic three-hour match was done, 6-4.
It has been a week of deep chill and constant drizzle, of torrential storms and Parisian floods, and after repeated delays to the schedule, the courts took on the texture of mud. But as Djokovic clasped the famous Coupe des Mousquetaires, the skies cleared over Philippe Chatrier court and the sun poured down.
It seemed only right on this record-making day.