Andy Murray – distracted, taunted by a hostile crowd and railing at minor distractions – lost focus at precisely the wrong time of the championships and could not deny Novak Djokovic his first French Open title here on Sunday, the brilliant Serb completing a career grand slam in the process.
Neither player found the frightening levels they reached in the semi-finals on Friday, but Djokovic came very close, and his aggression at the net combined with Murray’s lack of consistency and his inability to clear his mind at key moments made the difference over the three hours of a fractious final.
The world No1 overcame a slow start and gradually went through the gears to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Short or long, with ball in hand or off the ground, Djokovic had the better of Murray. He served way better, especially on second serve, won 63 of 116 rallies of four shots or fewer, and was even more surgical in longer exchanges, taking 59 of the 106 points in rallies of five shots or longer.
His defence, too, was rock solid and time and again he forced Murray to play from up to three yards behind the baseline.
There were few takers for Murray along the corridors of the media centre beforehand. The patrons, too, sounded as if they were two-thirds for Djokovic – perhaps because of his gracious and tearful acceptance of defeat in last year’s final by Stan Wawrinka. Maybe his playing to the gallery after each win the past fortnight was paying an aural dividend when he needed it most – or perhaps it was just because he is a damn fine tennis player.
What ever the reason, the loud and shamelessly partisan crowd rose to celebrate when the Scot hit long to hand their favourite a break to love in the first game of the match. It set the pattern for the rest of a grey afternoon.
It was the worst possible start for Murray – and then he hit back ferociously to win four games on the spin with the sort of tennis that destroyed Richard Gasquet in the quarters and Stan Wawrinka in Friday’s semi-final.
Murray, distracted by the presence of a French TV interviewer, Nelson Montfort, in his box, fought through three deuce points in a protracted seventh game, a third venomous ace releasing his frustrations. This was the behaviour Amelie Mauresmo complained about before leaving his employment in Madrid, the “complex” Murray, his control-freakery meeting his obsession with minor details. There can be no question it is counterproductive.
Montfort left the box – and, with his support team now at his back, Murray had to block out the catcalls of the crowd when the chair umpire, Damian Dumusois, refused Djokovic’s request that a point be replayed for 30-all. The sans cullottes were in full flow, celebrating a Murray double-fault on set point, but Djokovic dumped a final backhand.
Four of his 23 wins over Murray had come from a set down – but Murray had never lost a match at Roland Garros after winning the first set.
However, he pretty much threw the second set away, botching a break in the first game, then struggling to contain an increasingly buoyed opponent, who moved with stealth to close quarters time and again, cutting off the Scot’s passing shots. Djokovic closed out the second set when forcing Murray to cramp on his backhand.
Murray was now considerably more vocal at the start of the third, and had yet to have a proper rant at his box. But he did not look content.
Neither player was entirely in control of his racket, but Djokovic was finding the occasional shot from tennis heaven – and Murray made a mess of a simple volley at the net to hand him the first break in the third game.
“Where’s your mummy now Andy?” screamed a comedian as Murray served at 1-3 and 15-30 – then hit long in the rally to gift Djokovic two break points. He sealed it with another delightful crosscourt backhand chip that kissed the line.
Murray saw a chink of light in the sixth game – metaphorically speaking; there has been no sun here for a week. Djokovic saved break point with an ace down the middle, a second with another big serve, and watched gratefully as an anxious Murray struck long to put him a set and 5-1 up after exactly two hours.
When Djokovic served out the set, Murray’s task grew from mountainous to stratospheric – the sort of odds he has entertained many times in the past. But this was Djokovic in the lead, not Radek Stepanek or Mathias Bourgue, who tormented him at the start of the fortnight.
And the Serb now found much of the magic with which he destroyed young Dominic Thiem on Friday, as Murray engaged in a pointless discussion with the chair umpire, urging him to move the aerial camera that he said was distracting him on serve. The presence of the “Jetcam” did not seem to bother Djokovic when they swapped ends.
Murray continued to fight – but much of his struggle was with himself. To come back from a set and 0-2 down to force a fifth set against the best player in the world – who had just found a fifth gear – looked one lost cause too many for the world No2.
As Djokovic served for this title for the first time in his long and garlanded career just after 6pm local time, the light fading and the grey clouds hanging on to their threatening load, Murray found one last burst of stubbornness, breaking back for 3-5. He held for 4-5. We held our breath.
So did Djokovic, double-faulting on his first match point. He pushed a backhand wide for deuce. There was not a drop of oxygen on Court Philippe Chatrier.
A running forehand winner earned him a third match point – and he fell to the clay when Murray put his final shot into the net.
The sun came out, as if by magic, just as Djokovic said courtside: ““It’s a special moment, perhaps the biggest of my career. The sun is finally coming out. Nice to see it after 10 days of rain. I hope the fans had a nice time watching this great encounter today.”
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