FENDRICH ON TENNIS: Time to talk Grand Slam bid for Djokovic

PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic wanted to relish the moment, rightly so.

For more than a decade, he tried to win the French Open, the lone Grand Slam title missing from his collection, coming close but never quite sealing the deal. Three losses in the final. Four more in the semifinals.

So when he’d finally succeeded in becoming the champion at Roland Garros, beating Andy Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday, Djokovic was naturally focused on that particular accomplishment. In the bigger picture, though, there was so much more that was significant and historic about this victory: It made Djokovic the eighth man with a career Grand Slam — at least one trophy from each of tennis’ four most important events — and, even rarer, only the third man to win all of those major tournaments in a row, something last done almost 50 years ago.

Now there is an even greater pursuit that awaits, the ultimate achievement in his sport: a true Grand Slam, winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in a single season.

So Djokovic was asked Sunday evening whether he ever dreamed about — or now will put his mind to — joining Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) in going 4-for-4.

“Well, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I really think everything is achievable in life. You know, winning this trophy today gave me so much happiness and fulfillment. I’m trying to grasp, and I’m trying to cherish, obviously, these moments right now,” Djokovic said, eyes fixed on that once-elusive Le Coupe des Mousquetaires, resting a foot or so away on a table.

“Whether or not I can reach a calendar Slam, that’s still a possibility,” he continued. “But, you know, I don’t think about it right now. Right now, I just try to enjoy this experience of winning the trophy that I never won before.”

Whether or not Djokovic himself wants to discuss the Grand Slam, it will be at the forefont of everyone else’s minds when play begins at Wimbledon in just three weeks.

So let’s start the conversation, because it’s worth having.

In the nearly half-century since Laver’s second Slam, no man even came close to repeating the feat. Indeed, until Djokovic, only Mats Wilander, in 1988, and Jim Courier, in 1992, managed to make it halfway by winning the Australian Open and French Open in the same year.

Roger Federer never did that, winning the Australian Open four times, but not in 2009, the one year he won the French Open.

Nor did Rafael Nadal, winning the French Open nine times, but not in 2009, the one year he won the Australian Open.

Wilander’s bid ended in the quarterfinals at the All England Club, Courier’s in the third round there.

Neither ever won Wimbledon.

But Djokovic has. Three times, actually, including the past two years. He’s won the U.S. Open twice, including last year. He’s also in what appears to be his prime, only two weeks past his 29th birthday, demonstrating in Paris that his body-contorting, no-ball-gets-past-me defense, best-in-the-world returns and improved serve are too much for most every opponent to handle.

“His performances over the last 18 months to two years have been exceptional,” Murray said.

With a tour-leading 44-3 record and six titles in 2016, Djokovic is firmly entrenched at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, with more points than No. 2 Murray and No. 3 Federer combined, as of Monday.

“Let’s see what the future brings,” said Marian Vajda, who co-coaches Djokovic with Boris Becker. “He’s the best player now, and (getting) the French will give him a boost.”

That must be a frightening prospect for opponents.

As the world saw last year, when Serena Williams came within two wins of securing the first women’s Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988, the attention and pressure that come along with such an endeavor can be overwhelming.

Not to mention that all manner of mishaps can get in the way.

As Laver put it in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press: “All it takes is one bad match, anywhere along the whole year. You’ve got to stay fit. Can’t have injury or illness. Can’t have a bad draw.”

For 28 consecutive matches at majors, on hard, grass and clay courts, all has gone Djokovic’s way.

Can he add 14 more to that streak?

It’ll be fun to talk about. And more fun to watch.


Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at hfendrich@ap.org and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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