Andy Murray was hurting, spiritually as much as physically, after his 24th defeat against Novak Djokovic here on Sunday in his first French Open final, thus allowing his great rival to take la Coupe des Mousquetaires at the fourth attempt.
Djokovic’s 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier was played out in the familiar gloom of the past week – and then, to everyone’s amazement, the sun burst through to embroider the champion’s victory celebration on court.
Djokovic has completed the quartet of slam titles, and holds all four majors at the same time, matching the mark made 47 years ago by Rod Laver, who watched from the stands. All of these splendid achievements by the world No1 only served to underline the gap between Djokovic and Murray, born a week apart 29 years ago.
It will take Murray a few days to recover before his preparation for Wimbledon at the end of the month, when he will hope his chances of adding to his two slams are better than they were here, even allowing for his phenomenal improvement on clay over the past 12 months.
Their moods were understandably poles apart later, Djokovic joking and smiling with reporters as he contemplated adding to his silverware with a calendar grand slam, Murray, hair still matted and eyes downcast, trying to come to terms with how he let slip several good chances over three hours and three minutes of a match he might have extended to five sets had he been able to capitalise on Djokovic’s nervous finish in sight of the line.
He said it was “difficult just now to know” how to view his achievement of the past fortnight, reaching his first final at Roland Garros, yet losing again to someone he has beaten only 10 times – even if two of those victories were in slam finals.
“I’m very disappointed. Thirteen days ago I maybe would have signed to have been in this position.
“I was struggling. I was a couple of points from going out of the tournament in the first round. But then when you get there and you want to win. I didn’t do that today. At points I did well – not necessarily the whole match. He did play extremely well, gave me very few errors, started hitting the ball a bit close to the lines. I was dropping a bit far back behind the baseline.”
Murray had renewed hope when he got a break at 2-5 in the fourth, but explained: “The problem was I was such a long way behind by that stage. When you’re trying to do something for the first time and you’ve not experienced it before, that can throw you off – a few extra nerves. In that game I was close to making it very interesting, but he did well to finish it at the end.”
Asked to reflect on the challenge of playing in an era of such consistently high quality, alongside Djokovic as well as the absent Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (each recovering from injuries of differing severity), he said: “I can’t really say much more than I have already said. It’s such a rare thing to have happened [owning four slam titles at once], and obviously the depth in the game just now is strong. Some people may think differently but I think the level of tennis is pretty high now and something you probably won’t see for a long, long time. His performances over the last 18 months to two years have been exceptional and he deserves to be No1.”
Shifting the discussion away from his own temporal woes, he paid tribute to Muhammad Ali, who is one of his inspirational heroes.
“It was a sad day. He had been struggling for a long time, physically, and it did seem like things deteriorated very quickly over the last couple of days. He’s an amazing man. I watched and read a lot about him over the last day or so. I went on the BBC Sport web page and the first 11 stories were all on him. Some were [about] him speaking to kids; some were [about] the way that he talked before his fights; some were stories of other boxers who fought him or had met him and what he meant to them.
“I don’t meet loads of famous people, but he’s one famous person I would have loved to meet. I’m sad about that, as well.”
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