BRITAIN’S Andy Murray declared himself proud to be part of history even though it meant another heartbreaking loss in a grand slam final.
Novak Djokovic’s 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory in the French Open showpiece saw him finally complete his set of slam titles and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four trophies at the same time.
Addressing the man born just a week later, whom he first played as an 11-year-old, Murray said: “To Novak, this is his day.
“What he’s achieved the last 12 months is phenomenal, winning all four of the grand slams in one year is an amazing achievement and this is something that is so rare in tennis. It’s going to take a long time for it to happen again.
“Everyone here is extremely lucky to see it. Me personally, being on the opposite side, it sucks to lose the match, but I’m proud to be part of today.”
By reaching his first final at Roland Garros, something he never imagined was possible until he found his feet on clay last year, Murray equalled Fred Perry once more by appearing in his 10th slam final.
But, while Perry won eight titles, Murray has lost that many times, five of them to Djokovic, whom he also beat to win the US Open and Wimbledon, and three to Roger Federer.
In another era, Murray might well have already equalled Perry by now, but the Scot insists he is happy to be playing with giants of the game.
He said: “Obviously 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 unfortunately all of them have done it instead.
“But I guess I’ve got a few more years to try and do that. I think when I finish I will be more proud of my achievements maybe.
“None of the big events I have won have I done it without beating one of those guys, or a couple of them.”
For Djokovic, this was the culmination of years of not quite getting across the line at Roland Garros.
He first reached the semi-finals in 2007 and now, nine years and four finals later, finally the Coupe des Mousquetaries is his.
Twelve months ago, Djokovic at last defeated Rafael Nadal only for Stan Wawrinka to produce a stunning display in the final.
The Paris crowd, aware of just how desperate Djokovic was to lift their trophy, gave him a prolonged ovation.
He said: “A lot has been going on in my mind ever since I arrived in Paris, but I felt like this year when I arrived that it’s really different from any other year. The relationship and connection I had with fans and with people around.
“Obviously, as any other year, I was hoping that this is the year. I felt that support and love from the people around that allowed me to be sitting here with the trophy.”
It was clear the moment Djokovic walked out onto Court Philippe Chatrier to a great roar and chants of ‘Nole, Nole’ that he would have the vast majority of the support if nothing else.
He played a flawless game to break Murray’s serve to love first up, but then the Scot took over, reeling off four straight games and clinching the opening set.
Had he taken a break point at the start of the second, things might have been different, but from there until 5-2 in the fourth, Djokovic was utterly dominant.
With victory at last within his grasp, Djokovic faltered, but he served it out at the second time of asking on his third match point.
The Serb, who now has 12 slam titles, said: “You train as a professional athlete to always be in the moment and focus on the next point and not care too much about what’s in the past or what is coming up because you can’t influence that.
“We’re all humans, and arriving so close like never before in my life to this trophy and winning it, I felt it. I felt the tension and excitement, all the emotions.
“On the last point I don’t even remember what happened. It was like my spirit has left my body and I was just observing my body fight the last three, four exchanges, going left to right and hoping that Andy will make a mistake, which happened.
“A thrilling moment. One of the most beautiful I have had in my career.”
Djokovic described his tennis from the start of the second set until 5-2 as “flawless”, and whatever Murray tried, the world No 1 had an answer.
Murray did, though, feel he could have done better in certain areas, particularly on his serve. A first-serve percentage of a fraction over 50 was never going to be good enough.
He said: “At points I did well. He did play extremely well. Gave me very few errors. I wasn’t able to dictate enough points after the beginning of the match, and that made it tough. I kept fighting until the end, but I wasn’t able to play my best when I needed to.”
A long fortnight appeared to finally catch up with Murray, who played five-set matches in the opening two rounds and spent almost five hours longer on court than Djokovic.
Final report: Page 8.