World number one Novak Djokovic will contest the 2016 Roland Garros final against Great Britain’s Andy Murray on Sunday.
Murray has played against Djokovic on 33 previous occasions and has failed 23 times. Just one of Murray’s ten successes against Djokovic was recorded on the dirt.
While that result was recorded at the Rome Masters just last month, it was merely the second time that Murray had beaten his Serbian counterpart since the second half of 2013 – the two players have faced off 14 times during that period.
While the memory of that Rome defeat will still be fresh in Djokovic’s mind, the world number one will still enter Sunday’s fixture knowing that it is his to lose.
With Roger Federer now in the twilight of his career and Rafael Nadal being a shadow of the player he once was, the contest between Murray and Djokovic has become the Premier fixture in Men’s tennis. The recent results between these two have proven that.
In all three of their 2016 meetings, Murray and Djokovic have contested the Championship match – at the Australian Open, the Madrid Masters and Rome. The trend did not start there though. The first time Murray beat Djokovic was in the Final of the 2008 Cincinnati Masters. That was the first time the two had met in the Final of a tournament too.
As the Murray camp prepares for the 2016 Final, it will do so knowing that its man can beat Djokovic in a Final. He did it at Cincinnati 2008 and he did so on six more occasions. Two of those victories were recorded in the Final of a grand slam event. So, it would appear the Brit also has the required Big Match temperament, when taking on somebody of Djokovic’s calibre.
Those successes aside, what will do Murray’s confidence the greatest deal of good, ahead of this weekend’s contest, is his steady progression at Roland Garros during the past ten years. When the Brit entered his first Roland Garros tournament in 2006, he resembled a cow on ice (a phrase borrowed from Maria Sharapova).
Murray’s first major Roland Garros breakthrough happened in 2009, when he reached the last eight. His 2011 semi-final appearance was an eye-opener, and perhaps a sign of things to come. However, 2012 would prove a strong reminder that the Brit still had a long way to go at this event, after being knocked out by Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarter-final.
Murray made two more appearances in the semi-final subsequent to that and it is the second of those two, that probably provided the insight we need ahead of this weekend’s Final. Murray took Djokovic to five sets in 2015.
Much like his US Open triumph in 2012 and the subsequent Wimbledon triumph in 2013, Murray appears to be on the brink of achieving something historic at Roland Garros this term. As John McEnroe once so eloquently put it, ahead of Murray’s Wimbledon success, he is ready!
Djokovic will be cognizant of all this, as he prepares for the 2016 Final. Murray’s only two successes at grand slam events, were recorded against Djokovic. One of them wasn’t much of a bun fight either.
Djokovic has made three Roland Garros Final appearances in the past four years. The first was against Rafael Nadal in 2012. That outcome was always going to be a mere formality. When Djokovic returned to the Final against Nadal in 2014, he managed to take the first set. While the Serbian would rather forget what transpired in the three sets after that, there were already signs that he would eventually cross paths with destiny.
When Djokovic met Nadal again in 2015, this time at the quarter-final stage, the Spaniard was no longer at the peak of his powers. This was it, we all thought…the year Djokovic wins the career Grand Slam. Little did he, or anybody know, that the mercurial Stan Wawrinka would rain on his parade.
Those who follow golf, even remotely, will know about Phil Mickelson and the US Open – six second placed finishes throughout his career and not one title. Mickelson will not openly acknowledge it but it has become a thing now.
So, while Djokovic is currently at the peak of his powers, there is already the distinct possibility that Roland Garros will become a thing for him. He too, will never openly admit it but Djokovic will be all too aware of the pressure now on him to do what many greats who have come before him failed to do…win the career Grand Slam.
In fact, there are many who might be prepared to argue that this Roland Garros title is the only thing standing between Djokovic and a Calendar Year Grand Slam, something last achieved by the great Rod Laver.
The fact that Djokovic has dropped just one set in his 2016 Roland Garros campaign is as ominous a sign as any for Murray. That set was dropped in a rain interrupted match too, so some might even argue that it doesn’t even really count in the context of this tournament.
However, it does also heighten the expectations, especially after a compelling semi-final against a highly competent and charged up Dominic Thiem. For Murray, the road to the final has been bumpy, patched up with glimpses of brilliance.
For the reasonable man, 2016 will be the year of Djokovic, in every respect. However, with Murray having failed to peak just yet, this could go down as a memorable moment for Great British tennis.
Sometimes these things are just written in the stars. Reason doesn’t always have anything to do with it.
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