At long last, Novak Djokovic has joined tennis immortality with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory in the French Open final against Andy Murray on Sunday. Rather than clutter this with Djokovic’s accomplishments as a result of the win scattered throughout, let’s list them:
-First man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time, and the first to ever do it with all three surfaces represented.
-Becomes the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam, the fifth in the Open Era (Laver, Agassi, Federer, and most recently Nadal).
-Sixth man ever to win a Slam on all three surfaces (Connors, Wilander, Agassi, Nadal, and most recently Federer). He could match Nadal’s 2010 feat of winning three straight Slams with each on a different surface with another Wimbledon title next month.
-12 total Grand Slams, passing Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver. He’s now fourth all-time with Roy Emerson (or solely fourth in the Open Era), only behind Nadal and Sampras with 14 and Federer with 17.
-First man to win the Australian Open and French Open back-to-back since Jim Courier in 1992.
-65th overall title breaks a tie with Sampras and Borg for seventh in the Open Era (Connors, Lendl, Federer, McEnroe, Laver, Nadal).
-Joins Agassi as the only players to win 13 of the 15 top events in men’s tennis (four Grand Slams, nine Masters 1000s, World Tour Finals, Olympic singles gold). This title broke a long-standing tie that Djokovic had with Nadal and Federer, who each have 12.
The historical context of this match belongs at the forefront, because frankly, there was not a lot to treasure in the actual points being played, a fitting end to a rainy and uneventful tournament. After Djokovic stormed out of the gates to break at love, Murray broke back as part of claiming six of the next eight games. He was aggressive, hitting deep, focused, using variety and doing all the things that would be necessary to pull the upset.
Murray even had a break point to start the second, but when Djokovic saved it, it was as if a completely different match started. Though Djokovic was still flat emotionally until deep into that set, Murray completely went away. Once the World No. 1 raised his level to, let’s say a B+ (for him), an even match turned into a check-your-watch-is-this-thing-over-yet blowout, with the only tension coming when Djokovic nearly coughed up a 5-1 lead in the fourth, failing to convert back-to-back match points at 5-4 before earning and delivering on a third, overcoming the demons of three losses in the final, as well as the five-set marathon 2013 semi loss to Rafael Nadal that was a de facto final.
Despite all the fanfare and anticipation of Djokovic finally completing his Career Slam, this title doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – really alter his place in the all-time ranks. Rod Laver is a tough player to account for given his two Calendar Grand Slams but entirely different era of the sport. Setting him aside, Djokovic was objectively already the third-most, shall we say, accomplished player of all-time (“best” will always be somewhat subjective). Simple longevity elevates him over Borg (who never won a Slam on hardcourt), and while Pete Sampras has more majors than Djokovic, the differences in week-to-week and cross-surface dominance are staggering. In Pete’s defense, he played in an era that didn’t prize the Masters Series/1000s as they are now, but this is no contest (Sampras on left, Djokovic on right):
(tables, per Wikipedia, have been slightly adjusted to match each other)
It’s more apparent than ever that the three greatest men to ever pick up a racket (not to mention arguably the greatest woman ever in Serena Williams) have all spoiled the sporting world in competing at the same time. Djokovic still remains a bit short of Roger Federer and Nadal, but he’s closer than ever. With those two battling injuries plus Murray being incapable of challenging and the complete absence of a young threat that history has always proven will arrive, the ATP is monopolized by one dominant man with no signs of letting up.
-The Big Four will forever be linked, so they also deserve mention here. Although he is injured again and could easily miss Wimbledon, Nadal should not be written off. Barring Stan Wawrinka striking lightning twice, Nadal was the only semblance of a threat to Djokovic at this event (in retrospect, this was not the finest prediction) and he had arguably been the second best player on tour until withdrawing from Paris, which meant that still no one has beaten the Spaniard and gone on to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires. Meanwhile, Federer is scheduled to make his return this week in Stuttgart on grass.
-As for Murray, it’s a fitting new chapter for his complicated career that he became just the 10th man to make the final at all four majors while at the same time validating those that feel he shouldn’t be so much as mentioned in the same breath as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Nadal hasn’t beaten Djokovic in two years and Federer, nearly 35, is incapable of besting the Serb over best-of-five, yet during Sunday’s final, it was hard to ignore that neither of them mentally tap out the way Murray often does against Djokovic. He’ll never be as complete a player as him, but for a man as fit, intelligent and experienced as Murray, he has faded awful fast when the going got tough in their recent Grand Slam encounters.
-Also deserving mention are the young French women’s doubles of Kiki Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia, who won their home Slam by defeating the experienced duo of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in three sets. Combining women’s and mixed results, Mladenovic, at 23, is only missing the U.S. Open to have won all four majors.