PARIS (Reuters) - After years of near misses, Novak Djokovic finally conquered mount Roland Garros on Sunday to win the one trophy he craved like no other -- a maiden French Open title that elevated him into the pantheon of tennis greats.
It was a trophy he had failed to hoist in 11 previous visits to Paris. It was a trophy that was flaunted in front of his face in 2012, 2014 and 2015, only he was not allowed to touch it after finishing runner-up in the three finals
On Sunday, the Musketeers’ Cup was his at last as he broke Andy Murray’s resistance with a 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory that not only completed his grand slam collection but also made him the first man in nearly half a century to hold all four majors at once.
After such an emotional win, the world number one thanked the fans who had serenaded him with chants of “No-le, No-le, No-le, No-le” throughout the three-hour battle by recreating one of the most famous celebrations seen at Roland Garros.
A la Gustavo Kuerten in 2001, Djokovic drew a giant love-heart into the red clay with his racket before collapsing into the middle of it -- an x-shaped emblem of triumph.
“It’s a very special moment, the biggest of my career,” Djokovic told the crowd, which included the much-loved Brazilian champion, after capturing his 12th grand slam title.
“I felt today something that I never felt before at Roland Garros, I felt the love of the crowd, I drew the heart on the court, like Guga which he gave me permission to do. My heart will always be with you on this court.”
Winning the four majors -- Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open and the French Open -- in a row is a feat that is so difficult that it had not been achieved by a man since Rod Laver won the second of his calendar Grand Slams in 1969.
Hence, after Djokovic joined an exclusive club, which previously boasted only Laver and Don Budge as members, Murray was quick to applaud the Serb’s monumental achievement.
‘THIS IS NOVAK‘S DAY’
“Novak, this is his day. What he has achieved the last 12 months is phenomenal,” said Murray, who had been hoping to become the first British man in 81 years to win the claycourt major.
”Winning all four in one year is amazing. This is something that is so rare in tennis. It has not happened in a long time.
“Everyone who was here was lucky to see it. It sucks to lose the match, but I am proud to be part of today.”
It certainly “sucked” for Murray when he was broken in the very first game to love.
It “sucked” again when was almost wiped out 6-0 by Djokovic in the second set -- which the Serb would have done if he had converted either of his two break points in the fourth game.
And it “sucked” big time when he ended a 20-shot rally by smacking a backhand into the net on Djokovic’s third match point.
But while Murray’s day ended in despair as he reflected on an eighth defeat in 10 grand slam finals, Djokovic’s coach Marian Vajda was relieved the Serb had avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first man to lose their first four Roland Garros finals.
“Novak is 29 and when you get older your nerves are not that great and it was maybe the last year he could have won here,” Vajda said.
The nerves were certainly on show in the opening set when Djokovic, despite breaking Murray for a 1-0 lead, failed to hold serve till the sixth game -- prompting one spectator to shout “Wake up Djoko, wake up!”
He had his army of hollering fans on tenterhooks again when he was broken by Murray the first time he went to serve for the title at 5-2 in the fourth set.
Two games later, he was thumping his chest and waving both arms skywards as he urged the 15,000 crowd to pump up the volume.
Minutes later the deafening roars rocked the Philippe Chatrier arena as Djokovic finally cradled the trophy that meant so much to him.
“In the last point I don’t even remember what happened. It’s like my spirit had left my body,” said Djokovic.
“Kind of out-of-body experience... between 5-2 and closing out the match a lot has happened in my mind, in my soul. In order for me to win this trophy I had to go through that.”
Additional reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by John Stonestreet