Djokovic Completes His Career Grand Slam
A year ago, it seemed like it was meant to be. Novak Djokovic was the king of all he surveyed, he was the world number one by a country mile and he had already won five titles in the first five months of the season.
But Djokovic would have traded in all of those trophies and more, if he could guarantee that he would leave Paris as the French Open champion.
The French was his Holy Grail. He had reached three previous finals but had been beaten twice by Rafael Nadal and once by Stan Wawrinka. And when he had lost, he had looked distraught.
This was the one title he needed to complete his career Grand Slam – and become only the eighth man in history to do so – but additionally, 2016 was his chance to hold all four major titles at once. As the holder of the Wimbledon, US and Australian Open titles, he needed the French to complete the set and become only the third man ever to achieve the feat. This was pressure like no other.
Djokovic’s route to Paris and his appointment with destiny had started many, many months before. From the start of the season, he had lost just three matches; two to inspired opponents and one to an eye infection (he was forced to pull out after one set against Feliciano Lopez in the Dubai quarter-finals). Other than that, he was all but invincible on every surface – that eye problem stopped his run of 17 consecutive finals, a run stretching back 13 months and one that had earned him 13 trophies.
Starting his clay court journey in Monte Carlo as the defending champion, he had every right to expect much of his week in his adopted home town, but Jiri Vesely had other ideas. The Czech unseated the title holder in the second round in three sets.
It was the first time since 2013 that Djokovic had lost so early in any tournament. But after a few days of well-earned rest, the world number one was back in business. He powered his way to the Madrid title, beating Andy Murray in three sets in the final. In Rome, he was on course to do the same until the Scot got his revenge on the final Sunday.
On then to Paris, where as ever he hoped and hoped that this would be his year. But this time it felt different. No more was he the challenger to the established darlings of the crowd; this year he felt a new bond with the people of Paris. The standing ovation they had given him 12 months before after his loss to Wawrinka had brought him to tears and as he returned, he felt at home in their company.
‘I feel like this year when I arrived, it was really different from any other year,’ he explained at the time. ‘The relationship and connection I had with fans and with people, it was just different, you know?’
As it turned out, Djokovic did not need to do any deal with fate to achieve his ultimate goal. The ferocious intensity, the ability to turn defence into attack and his near superhuman strength and balance was too good for everyone. Even when Murray took the first set in the final, Djokovic did what he always does; he hit the reset button, cleared his head of the nerves and doubts and played like a man possessed. The title was always going to be his and when the last point was over, he felt a joy like never before.
‘In the last point I don’t even remember what happened,’ he said. ‘It was really one of those moments where you just try to be there. It’s like my spirit had left my body and I was just observing my body fighting the last three, four exchanges, going left to right and hoping that Andy would make a mistake, which happened.
‘And, yeah, a thrilling moment. One of the most beautiful I have had in my career. I’m just so overwhelmed with having this trophy next to me that I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.’
When, at last, he got his hands on the trophy, the sun shone. For two weeks, the clouds had shrouded the Stade Roland Garros, the rain had lashed down and large parts of Paris were flooded. But when Djokovic finally hoisted the Coupe des Mousquétaires above his head, the sun beamed down on the new champion. The gods were smiling.
This, indeed, was meant to be.