Dom­i­nant Djokovic eyes Golden Slam, turns ri­val green with envy

Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - By PRITHA SARKAR

He is the ten­nis ver­sion of the In­cred­i­ble Hulk, and on Sun­day No­vak Djokovic made his clos­est ri­vals turn green with envy as he fi­nally achieved some­thing no man had ac­com­plished for nearly half a cen­tury.

Play­ing what he de­scribed as “flaw­less ten­nis” over the last three sets of his 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Andy Mur­ray, Djokovic cracked his Roland Gar­ros jinx at the 12th at­tempt – and fourth fi­nal there – to win the French Open.

It al­lowed the Ser­bian world num­ber one to hold all four Grand Slam ti­tles at the same time -- a mile­stone that is so dif­fi­cult to reach that it had not been done by a man since Aus­tralian Rod Laver won the sec­ond of his cal­en­dar Grand Slams in 1969.

In an era when it is tough to keep track of the count­less records achieved by Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal – who own 31 ma­jors be­tween them – Djokovic man­aged to com­plete a feat that was tan­ta­liz­ingly just out of reach for his ri­vals-in-chief.

“It’s one of the ul­ti­mate chal­lenges that you have as a ten­nis player. I’m very proud, very thrilled,” he said on be­com­ing the third man af­ter Don Budge and Laver to hold the Wim­ble­don, US, Aus­tralian and French Open ti­tles si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Fed­erer had two at­tempts at com­plet­ing four in a row – in 2006 and 2007 – but each time he was thwarted in the French Open fi­nal by Nadal.

The Spa­niard sim­i­larly ar­rived at the 2011 Aus­tralian Open as the holder of three Grand Slam ti­tles, but fell in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

De­spite all their suc­cess, Fed­erer and Nadal, who are among eight men to have com­pleted a ca­reer Grand Slam, never man­aged to win the Aus­tralian-French Opens back-to-back.

With Djokovic having achieved that bench­mark, he is well placed to com­plete some­thing no man has ever achieved – the Golden Slam of four ma­jors and Olympic gold in the same year. So is that some­thing that can be done? “I don’t want to sound ar­ro­gant, but I re­ally think ev­ery­thing is achiev­able in life,” said Djokovic, who has now con­tested six suc­ces­sive Grand Slam fi­nals, win­ning five.

It cer­tainly is a pos­si­bil­ity be­cause nine­times French Open cham­pion Nadal, having strug­gled with in­juries, is no longer the force he was, while 34-year-old Fed­erer was a no show at the French Open af­ter fail­ing to re­cover from a back prob­lem.

That has left world No. 2 Mur­ray as Djokovic’s clos­est chal­lenger. But with the Bri­ton having a 2-5 win-loss record against the Serb in ma­jor fi­nals, Djokovic knows he has a men­tal hold over Mur­ray, who is just seven days older than him.

The world No. 1 con­ceded, how­ever, that he would not be the player he is had it not been for his ri­vals.

“Nadal and Fed­erer were so dom­i­nant in the sport when Andy and my­self came into the mix. At the be­gin­ning I was not glad to be part of their era,” said the 29-year-old.

“For­tu­nately for me I re­al­ized that I need to get stronger and that I need to ac­cept the fact that I’m com­pet­ing with these two tremen­dous cham­pi­ons. Ev­ery­thing was up­hill from that mo­ment on.”

Things have cer­tainly been on the up for Djokovic as he has now con­tested 20 Grand Slam fi­nals, win­ning 12.

He also has a bet­ter head-to-head against all three of his Big Four ri­vals. He leads Fed­erer 23-22, Nadal 26-23 and Mur­ray 24-10.

“These two guys, and Andy, have helped me to be­come a bet­ter player and helped me achieve all these things,” said Djokovic.

“The ri­val­ries that we have are im­por­tant for the sport, and in one way or an­other you try to com­pare your­self to them and what they have achieved be­fore.”

While Fed­erer (17 ma­jors), Nadal and Pete Sam­pras (both 14) still top Djokovic in the list of all-time Grand Slam ti­tle hold­ers, it is not in­con­ceiv­able that within a few years, the Serb will have left ev­ery­one in his wake.

(Reuters)

NO­VAK DJOKOVIC (and inset) lies on the clay at Roland Gar­ros fol­low­ing his con­quest of Andy Mur­ray in Sun­day’s French Open fi­nal.

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