When Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray face off in the French Open final in Paris on Sunday, both men will take a shot at history.
Born a week apart and taking on each other for the 34th time, the two will be chasing their first title in Paris. World number one Djokovic, who turned 29 on May 22, is playing his fourth final at Roland Garros. If he wins the Coupe des Mousquetaires, the only Grand Slam prize missing from a packed trophy cabinet, he will be only the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam.
Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the only men to have won all the four majors at least once.
A win on Sunday will also give him the ‘Novak Slam’ or the ‘Djoko Slam’ as he already holds the Wimbledon, US and Australian Open titles. The last male player to achieve a calendar Grand Slam was Australian legend Laver, who won all four majors in 1969.
Murray, a rival of Djokovic since their junior days and elder of the two, is the first Briton since Bunny Austin in 1937 to make the finals. If he prevails over Djokovic, Murray will be the first British player since Fred Perry in 1935 to have his name etched on the Musketeers’ Trophy, named so for a quartet of Frenchmen that won the Davis Cup in 1928.
History not on Murray’s side
“There is a lot riding on the match for both of us,” Murray said. “We have had some really big battles in the Slams before on all the other surfaces. I’m sure it will be the same again on Sunday.”
But, the odds are stacked against him.
Sunday will be the pair’s seventh meeting in a Grand Slam final, with Djokovic leading 4-2. Since the start of 2015, Murray has lost eight of his 10 encounters against the world number one. He beat Djokovic to win Wimbledon in 2013 but has since failed to get past the Serb in their four encounters at the majors, including this year’s Australian Open final and last year’s semifinal in Paris.
Against the Scot’s 10 wins, Djokovic has 23. Murray can draw comfort from coming out on top in two of their last six meetings, including a straight-set title win at the Rome Masters, the last major clay-court tournament heading into Paris.
Riding high on Rome
Granted, Djokovic was tired in Rome, having been stretched by Nadal and Kei Nishikori in the previous two rounds. He also complained loudly about court conditions that he thought were dangerous.
But, if Murray is to give himself a real chance against Djokovic on Sunday, he must do a Rome in Paris – keep his head down and go about business in an almost un-Murray like fashion.
The world number two successfully attacked Djokovic’s second serve, and protected his own second delivery. He unleashed his down-the-line backhand on the Serb and also used variations such as the short slice to draw his rival forward.
Murray has had to work hard to get to the final. He was stretched to five sets in the first two rounds. Richard Gasquet and defending champion Stan Wawrinka pushed him to four sets in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The win over Wawrinka was one of his finer performances, a display of the strides made by him on clay.
Against Djokovic, Murray can’t afford a slow start.
Djokovic has played fewer sets but Friday was his fourth straight day on court, with rain throwing the scheduling into disarray. He has dropped only one set heading into the finals. He described his 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 demolition of rising youngster Dominic Thiem in the semifinal as his “best performance of the tournament”.
He doesn’t need to do much to his game in a rivalry where he clearly has the upper hand. All he needs is to avoid letting the court conditions bother him and be more careful with smashing his racquet .
Fourth time lucky?
Djokovic has been flirting with the Career Grand Slam for four years now. He came tantalisingly close, only to fall at the last hurdle against Nadal in 2012 and 2014 and Wawrinka last year. With no Federer, Nadal, or Wawrinka around, this may be his best chance yet.
“Now I put myself in a position I wanted to be in ever since last year’s final,” Djokovic said. “[Roland Garros is] always high on the priority list when I start a season... and to be able to reach the finals is really special. I give myself another opportunity to win the trophy.”