Nothing Djokovic could do vs. Rafa
PARIS -- Novak Djokovic spoke in French when he addressed the Philippe Chatrier crowd after Sunday's championship match at Roland Garros. French is one of the four languages he speaks in addition to his native Serbian. But he still cannot say the words he most wants to here: I am the French Open champion.
It's not a language issue. Djokovic can learn Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Thai or Tagalog and it won't make any difference as long as the opponent standing across the net is speaking Spanish and saying, "My name is Rafael Nadal, and I am the King of Clay." Or saying anything really.
The French Open is the last major Djokovic needs to complete a career Grand Slam, and his attempts to win at Roland Garros have pretty much coincided with Rafa's reign. That's like trying to become the Yankees' starting shortstop during Derek Jeter's career.
"Obviously his records speak for themselves," Djokovic said. "He has won this tournament now nine times. It's very impressive what he's playing on this court. He has lost only once in his career on center court. It's definitely not easy in a best-of-five [match] to play against him in these conditions."
Djokovic and Nadal have met a record 12 times in Grand Slams and 42 times overall. Rafa has a 23-19 edge and leads 14-4 on clay. But Djokovic has improved against Nadal on the surface in recent years, entering Sunday with a 4-4 clay record against him since 2011, including a victory in Rome.
They had played each other five previous times here, with Nadal naturally winning all five. Djokovic was determined to change the results this time. Oddsmakers even favored him to do so when the tournament began. And he started off Sunday like he just might win.
In those previous five matches, Rafa had always won the first set. This time, Djokovic won 6-3, breaking down Nadal's forehand effectively. Djokovic started the second set in good form before Nadal got his forehand going and eventually edged him 7-5. And that's when Djokovic's hopes crumbled, along with his game.
With the 80-degree heat beginning to take a toll, Djokovic tired and got frustrated. He lost his composure. He smashed his racket to the ground at one point. He vomited during another. He lost the third set 6-2 and the fourth 6-4. He was so out of sorts that it wouldn't have been surprising to see him eat a baguette.
"I started playing quite bad and didn't move as well," Djokovic said. "I struggled a little bit physically throughout that third set. Then in the fourth I started to feel a little bit better, but in the crucial points he just played better. I wasn't playing at the level that I wanted, especially in the second part of the match."
That included match point, when a fan yelled an insult and Djokovic double-faulted to give Nadal the victory.
Djokovic's disappointment and frustration were plainly visible on his face as he watched Nadal again receive the French trophy he so desperately wants for himself. Nadal told the crowd that Djokovic will win here one day, but he was probably just being polite. Although Djokovic is determined to make that statement come true next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. Or the year after that ...
"It's not the first time that I have had this particular experience," Djokovic said. "At the end of the day, you have to put things in perspective and see where I come from and what kind of life I have. It's a blessing. So to be able to also be appreciated by the fans the way I was in the end of the match just gives me more strength and motivation to come back here and try 'til the end of my career and hopefully to get at least a title."