Tuesday, June 7, 2016

At Roland Garros, Djokovic and his quest both embraced

Novak Djokovic / Kissing the Coupe, basking in the glory of tennis history.

What more could you ask for – No. 1 playing No. 2, Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray. At stake was an opportunity for one player to be the first in 47 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, while for the other it was a chance to be the first British male player since Fred Perry in 1935 to be champion of Roland Garros. Neither had won the French Open before. On Sunday, one of them would win, and when they did, they would get to hoist the Coupe de Mousquetaires, one of the great and exciting moments in tennis.

Pour le gagnant va la Coupe. À votre santé!

At Roland Garros, the Parisian crowd
loves to embrace its winners.
As evening began to fall over Court Philippe Chatrier, it became apparent to everyone witnessing the spectacle in person as well as to a world-wide television audience that this Grand Slam was Djokovic's to win. After losing in the final three of the last four years, Djokovic finally had reason to feel joyous. He finally got to experience the thrill of victory instead of the agony of defeat when he beat Murray, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, to win the title.

When the last point had been played, Djokovic became the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam in tennis – and the first since the iconic Rod Laver of Australia in 1969 to hold all four of the Grand Slam singles titles at the same time – when he won the 2016 French Open. Call it a Djoker Slam, if you wish. Soon, he used his tennis racquet to create a heart in the clay, then promptly lay down inside of it spread eagle, happy, and smiling all the while.

"It's a very special day, perhaps the biggest moment of my career," Djokovic, a 29-year-old from Serbia, said in French to what New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey described as "the tough-to-conquer Parisian crowd that had gradually come to embrace him and his quest."

In witnessing Djokovic's historic four-set victory over Murray, Clarey wrote of the World No. 1: "He is quite a conundrum for the opposition with his elastic ground strokes, big serve and world-class returns. He can make a tennis court look dauntingly cramped as you face him across the net."

Gracious in defeat, Murray, the No. 2 seed from Great Britain, said of Djokovic: "This is his day today. What he's achieved in the last 12 months is phenomenal. Winning all four of the Grand Slams in one year is an amazing achievement. it's something that is so rare in tennis. You know it's not happened for an extremely long time, and it's going to take a long time for it to happen again. Everyone here who came to watch is extremely lucky to see it."

The champion and the Coupe / Djokovic enjoys
the day after in Paris.
Each year in late spring, the French Open in Paris serves as a grading period – a report card if you will – for professional tennis. It's the second of the year's four Grand Slam events – the others are the Australian Open in January, Wimbledon in late June and the U.S. Open in August near the end of summer  – and all the big names in men's professional tennis except 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, seeded third, who pulled out with a back injury, came to famed Roland Garros to complete for the Coupe.

Soon after, No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal, himself the owner of 14 Grand Slam titles – including nine at Roland Garros – pulled out just before his third-round match with an injury to his left wrist that he developed coming into the tournament. His status for Wimbledon remains uncertain. So, it was left to Djokovic and Murray, among the Big Four, to carry on the fight to the end while dodging many rain delays – and worthy opponents, including last year's champion Stan Wawrinka – along the way during the second week of the fortnight. To the amazement of many, both the men's final as well as the women's final the day before, won by Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in a huge upset over Serena Williams of the U.S., went on as scheduled.

"In the beginning, I was not glad to be part of their era," Djokovic said in reference to Federer and Nadal. Now, with 12 Grand Slams to his name, tying him with Australian great Roy Emerson for fourth on the career list and putting him within of Federer and Nadal, his attitude has changed. He said: "Later on I realized that everything happens for a reason. You're put in this position with a purpose, a purpose to learn and grow and evolve."

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images, 2016; Official Roland Garros poster art by Marc Desgrandchamps, 

No comments:

Post a Comment