From the moment Novak Djokovic entered the top three in the world rankings in 2007, he spent almost exactly four years in pursuit of his goal – the top of the tennis mountain and the Number One ranking. During that chase, the Serbian star won three Grand Slams and eventually would reach that pinnacle in 2011. The years since have been a blur of greatness unlike arguably anything the sport has ever seen.
Ahead of this year’s French Open fortnight, the 29-year-old’s Grand Slam championship tally was 11 – tied for the fourth most men’s singles major titles won during the Open era. Djokovic has built his legacy in the golden age of tennis during which Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who are first and tied for second on that same list, respectively, still have competed at a high level while others like Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have challenged for the biggest titles, as well. Even so, Djokovic broke into the top-five all-time in total weeks spent atop the rankings and also set the record for career ATP Masters 1000 events won– tournaments in the tier below Grand Slams – with 29.
Djokovic had won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, a gold medal at the Olympics and so much more, yet one accolade was missing – the French Open title.
So many times he had been close, losing to the eventual champion seven times. Djokovic fell in the final three times prior to his confrontation against Number Two seed Murray on Sunday. And after entering last year’s championship match at Roland Garros as the heavy favorite against Wawrinka before losing, the scene was all too familiar this time around when the Scot stormed out to a 6-3 lead. When Murray earned a break point in the first game of the second set, it looked like it may be another chance lost for Djokovic.
That was until he won 17 of the next 22 games to put himself on the doorstep of an eventual 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory to cement his legacy at the French Open and not only win his 12th major, but become the first male player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
“I needed a little bit of time to really find the right rhythm and start to play the way I intended, which happened in the beginning of the second and practically till 5-2 in the fourth set,” Djokovic said. “It was flawless tennis. I really felt like I played on a high quality.”
If someone put the Djokovic who competed on Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday in a video game, he would be rated a near-perfect all-around player. After the first set in which the Serbian admittedly dealt with nerves – “I started well first game, and then I dropped four games. You know, nerves kicked in,” he said – Djokovic did a little bit of everything.
He played his usual elastic variety of defense and offense, punished Murray’s second serves while also winning 38 percent of his opponent’s first deliveries for good measure. While some may point to Djokovic’s net game as the only thing he has bearing any resemblance to a weakness, the Serbian won 26 of 33 net points against an elite defender who has the ability to craft passing shots like David Beckham bends free kicks.
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