Djokovic: "I'm there to fight ... Unfortunately, it didn't work this time"
Sport has no proviso stipulating an athlete deserving of reward should stand triumphant at the end of the day.
While many had tipped Novak Djokovic to finally end Rafael Nadal’s stranglehold on the Coupe des Mousquetaires after winning the pair’s past four encounters, including on clay in the Rome final, the truth is that the Serb did not bring his A-game to really challenge the greatest ever player on the red dirt in the 2014 French Open final.
It marked Djokovic’s second Roland Garros final in three years and followed on from that epic semi-final last year where he led 4-2 in the fifth set before finally succumbing 9-7 to the Spaniard. And while the Serb is 6-0 in ATP Masters 1000 finals, worryingly he slips to one from five where it really counts, in his past six Grand Slam finals.
On the day, he simply came up against one of the all-time greats, a player who has now drawn level with Pete Sampras on 14 majors. “Obviously his records speak for themselves. He has won this tournament now nine times. It's very impressive what he's playing on this court. He has lost only once in his career on Centre Court. It's definitely not easy to play best-of-five against him in these conditions,” Djokovic said.
Hypotheticals always swirl in the aftermath of a Grand Slam final. A later start, in cooler, heavier conditions might have taken the sting out of Nadal’s range. Would it have been enough to turn the outcome of the match?
“If I was [a] left-hander maybe I would win the tournament,” Djokovic pondered.
Theirs is a rivalry unmatched in the open era of the men’s game. A 42nd meeting swayed the balance to 23-19 in the Spaniard’s favour, and while he extended his reign over the Serb at Roland Garros to 6-0, it is their Grand Slam finals head-to-head which pundits prefer to highlight. Nadal now edges ahead 4-3 in those deciders.
“These kind of big matches obviously take the best out of players. And of course it's a huge challenge. I tried to do my best. My best wasn't as the best against him in Rome a couple weeks ago,” Djokovic said. “It's finals of Grand Slam. I have expectations. You want this win as much as your opponent across the net. I'm [an] emotional player, and the tennis court is an arena and I'm there to fight, [to] show my emotions. Unfortunately, it didn't work this time.”
It was an unfortunate end for Djokovic, double-faulting on match point when a member of the crowd shouted as he was about to deliver his second service. It clearly rattled the Serb’s focus, but he would not blame the disruption on his ultimate demise. “When I play against Rafa, it's always exciting match for us to play and for crowd to see, so they get also involved in the match. In the end of the day, it's very emotional. A lot of tension going on the court. You can feel that. I cannot find excuses in the crowd. I cannot blame anybody. It's all part of the sport,” he said. “To be able to be appreciated by the fans the way I was in the end of the match just gives me more strength and motivation to come back here and try til the end of my career, hopefully to get at least a title.”
There is nothing to say Djokovic will ever capture the one Grand Slam trophy which continues to elude his grasp. You would however be hard-pressed to find a more deserving clay-court champion to one day end the Spaniard's reign.