Can Novak Djokovic write his name into the history books?
Only a Roland Garros win stands between him and a Career Grand Slam. Can the birthday boy do it this year?Meryl D'Souza May 22, 2016
Laver, Agassi, Federer and Nadal. Only four men have accomplished a Career Grand Slam in the Open Era. Djokovic needs a Roland Garros to add his name to that list and that title to his CV.
The world number one has come up empty in 12 previous trips, finishing as runner-up in three of the last four years. He came so close last year. After defeating Rafael Nadal – on his quest for an unprecedented tenth Fench Open title – it felt like the tournament was Djoker’s for the taking.
When he won the first set 43 minutes into the final, everyone thought it would be business as usual for the Serb who had basically become the monarch of men’s tennis. But the underdog triumphed. Stanislas Wawrinka played a game for the romantics and did it by unleashing that bonecrusher of a backhand as he came from behind to beat the favourite 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
A year later, Djokovic will be looking to add to his trophy cabinet and fill that Roland Garros shaped hole.
Since that loss to Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic has gone from strength to strength winning the next three Grand Slams and opening 2016 with an ATP-best five titles. But, his momentum was recently halted with a loss to Andy Murray in the Italian Open final.
That hitch is unlikely to affect the birthday boy who takes on Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun in his opening game at this year’s French Open. The Serbinator’s first test will be in the semi-final with a potential duel with Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard may not be the dominating machine we once knew as The King of Clay, but he has sufficient motivation – in the form of taking away a tenth French Open title – to give anyone a tough time.
For Djokovic, there perhaps will never be a better year to go home with the trophy. Between Nadal and Wawrinka’s erratic form and Roger Federer pulling out of the tournament with a back problem, Andy Murray stands as the only out and out competition.
The tragedy of sport is often a dream becomes a chase, which then morphs into an obsession until you start seeing it as a curse. People everywhere will not talk about the 64 titles Djokovic has won; they still point out the one that’s eluded him.
Turning 29 today, he insists he’s not feeling the pressure: “Age is just a number for me, so I still feel like I have plenty more years ahead of me, which gives me more comfort in terms of opportunities I'm going to have at the title of Roland Garros, which releases more pressure for me this year.”
But look closer and you’ll know that’s nothing but a ruse. As Jerome Pugmire of the Associated Press pointed out: “Before starting his practice, he goofed around wearing a beret as he played the traditional French game called "petanque" — albeit with yellow tennis balls instead of those heavy metallic ones — and jokingly played around with a violin.”
These are little gimmicks in the hope of winning the hard-to-please Parisian fans over. The same fans that cheer every shot played by Federer and have had a special place for Nadal ever since his first triumph in 2005.
Call it what you will, but Djokovic is pulling out all the stops this year. The asterisk next to his name is nothing but a smudge on his legacy.
Djokovic may be the world number one. But until he gets his name on that winner's board at 2 Avenue Gordon Bennett, he is only the world number one outside Paris.