Philosophical Djokovic tips his hat to Nadal

The world No.1 missed out on a second Roland-Garros title following a devastating display from Rafael Nadal.

 - Alex Sharp

Sometimes in sport, teams or players have to hold their hands up and appreciate an opponent on a different level.

"In the greatest of defeats, you learn the greatest lessons as a tennis player, but as a person as well," stated Novak Djokovic.

A 17-time Grand Slam champion himself, he crossed paths with a Rafael Nadal at the peak of his powers once again on the terre battue of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

This time the Spaniard nullified the artillery of Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to lift a 13th Coupe des Mousquetaires on his 100th Roland-Garros victory, to equal Roger Federer’s men's all-time leading record of 20 majors.

“It's just one of these days where you have to just say, 'chapeau, and well done',” insisted the gracious Djokovic.

Aiming to reel in Federer and Nadal’s Grand Slam haul, the emphatic manner of the defeat will hurt for the world No.1, but Djokovic was in a typically philosophical mood on Sunday evening.  

The 33-year-old is full of gratitude, adamant he can reset, re-evaluate and go again, just like he has done throughout his trophy-laden career.

“I was always saying that the only constant in my life is the change. I am someone that has that kind of approach to life, to really have an open mind, open heart, learn and grow and develop my character, be as best of a human being I can possibly be,” mused the current Australian Open champion.

“I have my flaws, as anybody else. I try to remind myself of how blessed I am really to be in this position. Especially in the big moments, in the big tournaments like this, when the history is written, I try to reflect on the early days of my career, where I grew up, how I grew up.

“I'm just very blessed and grateful to have the life that I have right now, without a doubt. I have to constantly repeat that to myself, that nothing should be taken for granted. I keep on working, keep on enjoying this sport, I truly do. Of course, defeats like this are never really enjoyable.” 

The Serbian, even in his 56th career meeting against Nadal (still 29-27 in Djokovic's favour), was surprised by the brilliance of his perennial rival in the final.

A ruthless Rafa offered up only six unforced errors in the opening two sets. Facing a demolition job, Djokovic sourced some inspiration and broke for the first time with a staggering two hours and 10 minutes on the clock to restore parity at 3-3 in the third set.

The world No.1 let out an almighty defiant roar, cajoling the crowd to raise the noise levels, but it was the Spaniard’s sustained superiority which captured the trophy once again.

Djokovic, like most of us, is running out of superlatives to describe Nadal’s Roland-Garros greatness.

“Today you showed why you’re ‘King of clay,’ I have experienced it on my own skin,” said Djokovic on court, before offering his analysis during his press conference. 

“I don't have much to say but that I was completely overplayed by Rafa, by a better player on the court. He was not missing at all and getting every ball back, just playing tactically great,” explained the 33-year-old, whose sole Roland-Garros victory over Nadal came in the 2015 quarter-finals.

“I felt well throughout the entire tournament. I thought I was in a great form. Certainly I could have played better, especially in the first two sets. But he did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. He's phenomenal. He played a perfect match.

“The third set I managed to come back. I kind of found my groove on the court. Had my chances, didn't use them. He closed out the match. That's it. He was the far better player on the court today and absolutely deserved to win." 

Remarkably Djokovic, including his captivating five-set semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, has compiled 74 Roland-Garros match wins for only one title triumph in Paris in 2016. 

However, in Melbourne, Djokovic has accumulated 75 victories and eight titles, creating a real aura at the Australian Open’s Rod Laver Arena, in a parallel with Nadal’s reign on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“He keeps going. No holding him back it seems like. It's amazing,” said Djokovic with a smile. “I admire all his achievements, especially the one here. It's stunning score and results and records that he's got on this court.

“He lost two times in his entire career (Soderling 2009, Djokovic 2015). Winning 13 times, there's not much you can say. All the superlatives you can use, he deserves them.”