Djokovic v Murray rivalry takes historic turn in French Open final
Considerable slices of history and a first French Open title are on offer for Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray when men’s tennis’ top two go toe-to-toe in Sunday’s final.
World number one Djokovic is, once again, looking to become the seventh man to complete a career Grand Slam.
The Serbian has become almost peerless in the sweltering, early-season slog of the Australian Open and has mastered Wimbledon in the past two seasons, while his hard-court prowess makes him the favourite heading into any US Open.
But the red dirt in Paris has so far provided a tough-to-shift stain on his record.
Twice failure at Roland Garros has denied him a calendar Grand Slam, in 2011 and last year, while he has lost three finals in the French capital.
As is generally the case, Djokovic is in freakishly good form heading into the final, having dropped only one set in the tournament, to take his winning run in majors to 27 matches - equalling his longest run before Rafael Nadal trumped him in 2012.
Well aware of the place in history that awaits him, Djokovic is keen to finally etch his name among rarefied company.
“I put myself in a position in which I wanted to be in of course ever since last year’s final,” he said after dismantling Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals. “I was hoping that the clay court season would be successful in the other tournaments, but mostly in this one.
“It’s always high on the priority list when I start a season thinking about Roland Garros, and to be able to reach finals is really special. I give myself another opportunity to win the trophy.”
Djokovic has lost just twice on the ATP Tour this year, but both came on clay and the last was to Murray in the final in Rome.
The first British man to reach the Roland Garros final in 79 years, Murray became the 10th man to reach all four major finals as he beat reigning champion Stan Wawrinka in the last four.
That win in Rome is indicative of Murray’s wider improvement on a surface upon which he had previously struggled, beating Nadal in Madrid last year - a title Djokovic took from him 12 months on.
Murray overcame the crushing weight of expectation to win at Wimbledon - defeating Djokovic in the final - three years ago, and says the pressure will drive him on again this time.
“I mean use it as motivation, if anything,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily expect to be here a few years ago.
“So I’ve got to try and enjoy it. I’m proud I have managed to reach the final of all four [majors].
“That was big. Especially with the guys that are around just now. It’s not been easy. I lost three semis. I lost here to Rafa, two to Rafa and one to Novak last year.
“There’s not many players that do that now because, you know, before obviously three of the slams were played on grass, and now they’re on the different surfaces. Not an easy thing to do.”