Novak Djokovic creating history was enough to bring back the blog.
Believe it or not it rained a bit in Paris during these past two weeks, maybe the Sunday start isn't such a bad thing. No, that's not true, but the organisers managed to get the event finished on time so that was an achievement. As the premier clay event in the world, it should have the best facilities but this sadly not the case. The beast of French bureaucracy is not an easy one to defeat. Roland Garros was outdated when I visited the event which is when Gaston Gaudio qualified for the main draw and Thomas Muster's last event. That should give you an idea that they need to expand, ideally they should have floodlights as well, but we know it's all about the roof. The tournament deserves it and maybe it will happen, then again we could always have some tennis surfaces which have variety unlike the homogenous state tennis is in at the moment.
Thiem rocking the zebra
So what were the other highlights of Roland Garros. The young Austrian Dominic Thiem into his first Slam semifinal and making it into the top 10 for the first time. It's an outstanding achievement, he has a lot of improvement as well, once he matures and knows his game. Thiem is strong off both sides, can construct points with patience and then be very aggressive. He has to learn when to go for it but that will come with maturity, best of all he has an excellent work ethic and is analytical about his performances which bodes well. On a side note Gunther Bresnik his coach knows how to prepare players, he got Gulbis and Thiem into the top 10, plus the late Horst Skoff and Koubek into the top 20, so Thiem is in good hands.
Thiem vs. Goffin QF
Odds and Ends
Ernests Gulbis decides he wants to play again and has a good tournament. He'll just do what he wants and possibly lose 7 first round matches in a row. Gulbis has the talent but not the desire, so he will have his fleeting moments and play for the fun of it. Ramos-Vinolas somehow makes the quarter finals, it's never the guys you really want to do it that get these surprise runs.
Bernie Tomic won a match on clay that is always a cause for celebration, this is the part of the year where he is on vacation. The fact that he lasted longer in the event than Fabio Fognini the man who has trolled Roland Garros on numerous occasions is strange in itself. Speaking of characters it was great to see Stephane Robert win a match in Paris. In an age where sportspeople with personalities are crucified because if they say nothing, they are boring and when they do, the media for the most part totally overreact. Robert dances to his own tune, plays an unorthodox game and at 36 doesn't look like stopping soon. The personable nature and also he actually likes to see the places where he is playing and not just room service. Good to see the game hasn't killed them off.
Stephane Robert vs. Kevin Anderson
Murray not a clay pigeon no more
Enough of the fun stuff and onto what this entry was meant to be about. First of all glad to be proved wrong about Andy Murray making a Slam final on clay. I didn't think he would be able to do it as the better claycourt players could outhit him, expose the forehand which is much easier to do on clay than the faster surfaces. It was a tremendous achievement taking out the defending champion Stani Wawrinka who was off his game and Murray weathered that challenge fairly easily in the end.
Djokovic and Murray finals generally aren't the most interesting. Some match ups just aren't that good unless you're specifically a fan of the player who is dominating. The final went the way that most expected, it was going to be a tall order for Murray on his worst surface to beat Djokovic on his second best one in a Slam final. It would need Djokovic to be 5-7% down and Murray to at the top of his game for an extended period of time.
Djokovic got the early break but Murray broke back immediately and started off very aggressively. He was taking risks on the forehand, the second serve was solid which helped his court positioning which forced Djokovic into error and pushed him around. Murray is more consistent than Wawrinka, but Wawrinka has a bigger game and more of a shotmaker so in the 2015 final he was able to pin Djokovic further from the baseline and break down his defence which Murray wasn't able to do here.
Once Djokovic settled down into the match and got into that mode where I am not going to miss, hit down the lines and make you run. The confidence grew as he was on or just inside the baseline dictating the play, you know he is playing well when he is making volleys and there weren't any funny Djokosmashes. Yes, there was a bit of fun at the end when Murray got one of the break backs in the 4th set but it didn't feel like we were seeing a 2004 Coria choke, which is still the best or at least strangest Grand Slam final.
Now Novak Djokovic has the "Nole Slam" along with Laver and Don Budge to hold the 4 titles simultaneously. For the record I don't think he'll get the calendar Slam but that counts for now in reality. Djokovic has always been seen as the 3rd wheel in comparison to Federer and Nadal. Federer is the last link to the game when there were clear differences between the various surfaces and played the classic game. Nadal appealed to the demographic that didn't want to see Federer dominating, sure it was more teeny bopperish and Justin Bieber like initially, but others were drawn to his energy.
Djokovic and Murray are peers, they eventually started catching up to the big 2. Djokovic in his younger years had great theatrical skills looking like he was injured and coming back to win matches.. Yes, there were the impressions, the wanting to be loved but it not quite happening. Underneath all that there was the steely resolve to improve, hiring Thomas Muster's former fitness trainer, the egg chamber, the diet. He managed to start beating the others, yet it wasn't as spectacular as the other two.
Once Djokovic returned to Marian Vajda after a bad stint with Todd Martin. Vajda was the calm father like figure he needed, they rebuilt his serve and improved his forehand to such a level that it's only slightly behind the backhand. This with the improved fitness levels were the main factors in Djokovic reaching the top of the tree. Naturally winning is a wonderful habit and having the self belief to win when things are difficult is a skill very few possess.
It's good that Djokovic does have the career Slam now and while this is a fantastic achievement like Nadal and Federer. For one it's deserved and it would have been disappointing if he didn’t manage it especially in this area. Which leads to the next point as someone who loathed Andre Agassi from the start to the end, the fact he won the career Slam is far more impressive than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
Yes, it’s true when Agassi won the career Slam, the grass was very fast, low bouncing, skidding unlike the grass at Wimbledon today where the only similarities are the colour. The clay well they use a lighter ball these days but there is only so much you can alter the clay courts as they are more dependent on weather than the other surfaces.
As for whether Djokovic is a contender for the GOAT. This is really is a stupid narrative in reality as it can’t be effectively judged. So if the bean counters want to solely use stats, then that will always be flawed like anything just based on numbers. Each player can only exist in their generation, as it’s impossible to create the same conditions as time doesn’t stand still. There are achievements which will always be great. Borg winning the RG-Wimbledon double three times in a row when the surfaces were so different. Nadal winning so many RG titles, Federer with the weeks at number 1, the Wimbledon titles, the Nole Slam, Luis Horna not getting a break point at all against Flavio Cipolla.
Federer said it himself “Anyway, every surface is very similar today, otherwise we couldn't have achieved all these things on all these different surfaces so quickly, like him and myself”. This now applies to Djokovic. It’s still accurate, in spite of this it’s admirable what Novak Djokovic is doing and it’s irrelevant that he doesn’t get the love that Federer and Nadal do from press and fans alike, but he finally got some love from the French crowd.