Djokovic, Murray seek milestones in championship clash
Paris — Novak Djokovic is on the precipice of history once again at the French Open, reaching the final for the fourth time in five years at the only major tournament he hasn’t won.
In addition to trying to complete a career Grand Slam, Djokovic will be hoping to accomplish something even more rare — winning a fourth consecutive major title, something that hasn’t been done by a man in nearly a half-century.
On court for the fourth straight day at rain-logged Roland Garros, Djokovic raced through his semifinal Friday with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 13 Dominic Thiem of Austria.
“Best performance of the tournament,” declared Djokovic, an 11-time major champion.
After a welcome day of rest, he will face Andy Murray in Sunday’s final. Murray became the first British man since 1937 to get that far in Paris, ousting defending champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Murray, his voice wavering during an on-court interview. “I never expected to reach the final here.”
Either No. 1 Djokovic or No. 2 Murray will be a first-time French Open champion.
Murray had lost his previous three semifinals at Roland Garros, including a five-setter against Djokovic a year ago.
Djokovic, meanwhile, is 0-3 in title matches at the French Open, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2012 and 2014, then Wawrinka in 2015, each time in four sets. That loss to Wawrinka was Djokovic’s most recent at a major.
Back in 2012, Djokovic also was on a 27-match winning streak at Grand Slam tournaments, just as he is entering Sunday. Succeed in making it 28 this time, and he will have pulled off a perfect run through the past four majors, starting with Wimbledon’s grass and the U.S. Open’s hard courts last season, and the Australian Open’s hard courts this season.
“Novak,” Murray noted, “obviously plays great on all of the surfaces.”
The last man to win the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in a row was Rod Laver, who took all four titles in 1969.
Laver is one of seven men who have managed to collect a full set of trophies from all four majors over the course of a career, a group that includes Djokovic’s contemporaries Nadal and Roger Federer.
Djokovic did not need to contend with either of them during this tournament: Federer withdrew beforehand because of a bad back; Nadal pulled out after the second round with an injured left wrist.
And now only Murray stands in Djokovic’s way.
“Well, look,” the 29-year-old Djokovic said, “now I put myself in a position in which I wanted to be, of course, ever since last year’s final.”
When he assured his return by closing out Thiem in an energy-saving 1 hour, 48 minutes, Djokovic celebrated in style, corralling a half-dozen ball kids and choreographing a joint bow to the crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen as spectators shouted, “Ole!”
Because of all of the showers this week that jumbled the schedule, the semifinals were played simultaneously, and tickets to Lenglen went for a bargain-basement rate of 20 euros ($22), creating what Djokovic called an “amazing ambiance, atmosphere.”
He thrived in it, never allowing the 22-year-old Thiem — “a leader of a new generation,” Djokovic said — to get a foothold in his first Slam semifinal.
“He was just too strong today,” Thiem explained. “That’s all I can say.”
Over on Court Philippe Chatrier, Murray had more trouble against Wawrinka, but just barely. Murray broke early in each of the first two sets, and again to lead 1-0 in the fourth.
Never forced to deal with the sort of deficits that saw him taken to five sets in each of the first two rounds, Murray soon enough was into his 10th Grand Slam final — and against a rather familiar foe. They were born a week apart, got to know each other as juniors, and Sunday’s meeting will be their 34th on tour (Djokovic leads 23-10), their seventh in a major final (Djokovic leads 4-2, with all his titles at the Australian Open; Murray beat him at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon).
Murray won the most recent matchup, on red clay in the Italian Open final last month.
“I’m sure that it’s going to be a final with a lot of emotions and a lot of exchanges from the baseline, because we have similar styles of game,” Djokovic said. “I know his game; he knows mine.”