The rules of tennis simply do not apply to Novak Djokovic
It is pointless trying to predict how many Grand Slams Djokovic will win, writes Tumaini Carayol, purely because logic does not apply to the Serbian star.
For 48 minutes of his first French Open final, Andy Murray stood on top of the world. He served out of the sky and followed up every first delivery with pounding forehands. Murray marked his space on the baseline and bullied an abysmal Djokovic with the exact tactics that had brought him a victory against the world no.1 in Rome. They were working. After marching to a first set lead, Murray had plenty of reason to believe that he could defeat his greatest nemesis.
But in one solitary game Murray lost it all. In his first service game of the second set, as happens to normal tennis players, the Scot’s blazing form cooled just a little. He became a little more tentative. He threw in a couple of errors and closed the poor service game with a double fault.
Against for most top players at such an unimportant point of the match, this would not the end of the world. The errors were certainly not welcome and could have signalled a momentum shift, but they would not beckon the end of the match. The entire tennis scoring system is built to halt the influence of momentum. Every game presents a new challenge and every set is completely separate from the previous one.
But Novak Djokovic is unique, the manner in which he flipped the match on its head to clinch his fourth consecutive slam was a reminder that the rules of tennis simply do not apply to him. After his atrocious first set, this one errant game from Murray was enough for Djokovic to stand up and take the match. From the completely unthreatening position of one set down and one break up at the beginning of the second set, Djokovic rolled to victory and never looked back. Although Murray continued to fight, it was clear that he knew the direction the match was heading.
Novak Djokovic has the tendency to do this to his opponents, and it’s one of the many characteristics that contribute to his dominance. His tight matches are close until he suddenly decides that they should no longer be, and he immediately sprints to victory. Although Djokovic has barely contested any close matches outside of his angst filled pre-French Open clay season, in the past year he punctuated so many matches with completely one-sided climaxes.
Djokovic pulls off these massive runs of games because the entire concept of the return of serve is that it is a reaction to the first shot of each point. But Djokovic’s return, the greatest in the history of the sport, has re-defined the shot. When the Serb gets into the mood he assumed against Murray, the Djokovic return becomes the protagonist in every game.
As Djokovic held serve with his strong delivery, Murray’s service games were under attack from the Serb’s ability to constantly redirect his biggest serves to within inches of the baseline. Djokovic thundered to victory - Murray offered Djokovic one game, and the Serb responded by taking the whole match.
Djokovic’s victory is already being headlined with him securing his epic quest for the final piece of the Career Grand Slam jigsaw puzzle, but it should be a footnote to the biggest consequence of his French Open victory. No man has ever captured all four slams across the three different surfaces they are played on now. Even without the benefit of time, the Serb’s capturing of all four Grand Slams of the past year ranks as one of the great sporting achievements of our time.
President of the Federation Francaise de Tennis Jean Gachassin (R) looks on as Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds up his trophy after winning the men's final match against Britain's Andy Murray at the Roland Garros 2016 French Tennis Open in Paris on June 5, 2AFP
That Djokovic was able to complete his set of four slams in a row with such little friction on the final leg highlighted how different this part of Djokovic’s career is to her’s. Serena was once the ultimate fearless record-breaker who always succeeded in tight moments, but age brings sobriety and an understanding of the magnitude of every success. Djokovic is already one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, and he is bang in the middle of his prime, with no rivals and the wherewithal to complete one of the most difficult feats in tennis with ease.
Tumaini Carayol - on Twitter: @tumcarayol