Andy Murray suffered his eighth grand slam final defeat as Novak Djokovic finally took the French Open title and with it his place in the highest pantheon of tennis.
The world No 1 becomes the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four trophies at the same time after a 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory in his fourth final at Roland Garros.
To achieve something even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fell short of in the same era is truly remarkable and, by winning his 12th slam title, Djokovic is only five short of Federer’s all-time record.
For Murray, it was an all-too familiar feeling as high hopes gave way to helplessness in the face of Djokovic’s brilliance, with five of his final defeats coming against the man he first faced as an 11-year-old.
The Scot, the first British man in 79 years to reach the final here, fought for all he was worth in the fourth set, but ultimately he had no answer.
Djokovic lay flat on his back in the clay as he soaked in his achievement.
“It’s a very special moment,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest of my career.”
Murray apologised for not speaking French before thanking his team and the crowd.
He added: “Finally to Novak, this is his day today. 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.”
After a minute’s applause for Muhammad Ali, the players walked onto Court Philippe Chatrier, and it was clear if Murray was to win it would be against the wishes of the majority as chants of ‘Nole, Nole’ rang out.
Djokovic could not have played a better first game, landing a perfect drop shot at the end of a long opening rally and breaking the Scot to love.
But the first set was to belong decisively to Murray. He hit back immediately with one of his trademark lobs and reeled off four sublime games in a row.
His forehand, certainly the weaker of his groundstrokes, was the key shot while Djokovic’s forehand was all over the place.
The only time Murray’s focus wavered was when he became distracted by French TV journalist Nelson Monfort sitting in his box, yelling and gesticulating until he left.
More drama followed when he served for the set at 5-3. A second serve at 15-0 was called out, but umpire Damien Dumusois over-ruled and awarded Murray the point.
Djokovic was furious and the crowd refused to stop whistling their disapproval as Murray stood at the line ready to serve.
Eventually he was allowed to continue and clinched the set on his third chance when Djokovic netted a backhand.
As omens come, it was a seriously good one, for Murray had never lost a match at Roland Garros having won the opening set.
But Djokovic had beaten his former junior rival four times from a set down, including in the Australian Open final in 2013, so he knew it was far from impossible.
Had Murray taken a break point in the opening game of the second, things might have been different, but he missed it and from there things quickly unravelled.
Djokovic found the level of play with which he has dominated men’s tennis and Murray had no answer.
Although the Scot had won only two of their previous 14 meetings, one of those came just before the tournament in Rome, boosting hopes that Murray could pull off what surely would be the greatest achievement of his career.
Even the man himself never imagined he would have a chance at winning here until he found his feet on clay last year.
But to do that he would have to do what he did in the Italian capital – play aggressively, mix it up and get under Djokovic’s skin.
There was no sign of that, however, as the world No 1 quickly assumed control of the third set and then won five games in a row.
The Scot could do little but attempt to stay with Djokovic in lengthy baseline rallies, which was playing to the Serb’s strength.
Murray tried to up his aggression and regain some control, and it brought four break points, but Djokovic refused to allow his opponent even a chink of light.
Murray, who had spent nearly five hours longer on court than Djokovic, was beginning to look weary and, at 5-2 in the fourth, the match appeared to be over.
But it was perhaps fitting that, having been so close to this title so many times before, Djokovic should be made to wait a bit longer. The first time he served for it, Murray broke. The second time, he brought up two match points but Murray saved both, but, at the third time of asking, his resistance finally ran out.