Murray tips his hat to Djokovic after final defeat
Andy Murray came up against history in the elastic, counter-punching, utterly peerless form of world No.1 Novak Djokovic on Court Philippe-Chatrier and kissed goodbye to his bid to become only the second Briton after Fred Perry to win at Roland-Garros.
After winning the opening set 6-3 with tennis of incredible intensity, Andy Murray might take some consolation in the fact he lost out on a potential first French Open title to an opponent who in winning a career Slam has matched a feat achieved only once before, in 1969, when Rod Laver became the first man in the Open Era to hold all four majors at once.
"This is Novak's day," Murray said on court, his voice croaking with deflation and fatigue after a four-set battle lasting three hours and three minutes.
"What he has achieved in the last year, winning all four Grand Slams, is an amazing achievement. It's something so rare in tennis and it will be a long time before it happens again. Everyone here has been lucky to see it. For me personally, it sucks to lose the match but I am proud to have been part of something special. Congratulations Novak. Well done."
By reaching his 10th Grand Slam final, Murray notched up personal milestones in the record books. He equalled Fred Perry for the most appearances in a Grand Slam final by a British man and became the 10th man in the Open era to reach the final at all four Grand Slam events - both phenomenal achievements - but, ultimate competitor that he is, he was left disconsolate, ruing the reliability of his first serve and the dictatorial accuracy of Djokovic.
Even at 5-4 down in the fourth set, the momentum looked like it might switch again in the Scot's favour. Did he believe he could turn it around?
"When I got the break at 5-2, then - you know, the problem was it was such a long way behind by that stage. When you're trying to do something for the first time, that can throw you off, you know, a few extra nerves. In that game I was close to making it very interesting, but he did well to finish it at the end."
He was heard to shout "my legs have gone!" towards his box early in the third set. Did he think those two tough five-setters in the run to the final cost him?
"I played a lot of long matches at the beginning of the tournament, and then the match with Stan [Wawrinka] wasn't that long. The match with Richard [Gasquet] was just over three hours. Novak had to play every day, although his matches were more comfortable, so it was a little bit different. But I think the conditions have been challenging for all the players. Very heavy, you know, tough, tough conditions. If you aren't the one dictating the points you end up doing quite a bit of running and it's not easy. It was tough. I kept fighting till the end, but I wasn't able to play my best when I needed to.
"I'm very disappointed. At points I did well, but not necessarily the whole match. He played extremely well. He gave me very few errors. He started hitting the ball a bit close to the lines and I was sort of dropping a bit far back behind the baseline. Obviously if you're letting the best players control points, that makes it tough. I wasn't able to dictate enough points after the beginning of the match. "Thirteen days ago, I maybe would have signed to have been in this position. I was struggling. I was a couple of points from going out of the tournament in the first round [against Radek Stepanek]. But then when you get [to the final] obviously you want to win. I didn't do that today and right now I'm very disappointed, but obviously the tournament could have been quite different had I gone out in the first round."
In meeting Djokovic today Murray also equalled Boris Becker in 12th place on the list for the most Grand Slam finals reached. Only three active players have reached more than Murray - Federer, Nadal and Djokovic - and that remains a moot point.
"Thirteen days ago, I maybe would have signed to have been in this position. I was struggling. I was a couple of points from going out of the tournament in the first round [against Radek Stepanek]. But then when you get [to the final] obviously you want to win."
"[Novak's] performances over the last 18 months to two years have been exceptional and he deserves to be No. 1," he said. "The guys I have been around the last few years have made things difficult for me. I have been close-ish to winning all of the slams now and, you know, unfortunately all of them have done it instead. But I guess I've got a few more years to try and do that. None of the big events I have won I have done without beating one of those guys or a couple of them. Maybe when I finish playing, my achievements will mean a little bit more."
When the pain of losing today has subsided, Murray's fans hope he can take pride in his 11-match winning streak on clay, his longest at Tour-level. It took him to the final day to become only the third British man alongside Fred Perry and Bunny Austin to reach the final here since 1925 and it proved himself a worthy world No.2.
He also joins Jim Courier and Fred Stolle as the only two men in history to have won two of the four Grand Slams (the US Open and Wimbledon) and finished as runner-up at the other two (the Australian Open and Roland-Garros).
Right now that may seem a bitter-sweet achievement, but he has the grass-court season to look forward to. He is 2-0 up in both previous encounters with Djokovic on the surface that suits his game best, and at Queen's and Wimbledon he will play with the support of the stadiums rather a capacity crowd intent on willing on Djokovic's long-awaited historic feat.