Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

High stakes for Murray, Djokovic

PARIS — For a bedraggled French Open, it sure did spit out a consequential men's final.

When top seed Novak Djokovic plays No. 2 Andy Murray on Sunday, Djokovic can become the eighth man, and just the fourth in the Open era (since 1968), to complete the full set of Grand Slam titles, as well as becoming the first in 47 years to hold all four majors at once.

As a British bonus, it will give budding claycourt maestro Murray a distinction that eluded such stars as Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Boris Becker: He will have played in all the Grand Slam finals, having become the first Briton in a French Open final since Bunny Austin in 1937.

"I'm extremely proud," said Murray, his voice wavering during an on-court interview after ousting defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 Friday. "I never expected to reach the final here.

"I've always struggled on the clay, and the last two years I've had some of my best results."

Murray had lost his previous three French Open semifinals, including a five-setter against Djokovic a year ago.

Djokovic — who raced through his semifinal with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 13 Dominic Thiem — 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.

"Neither of us know how many more chances we'll have to win here," said Murray, born in May 1987, seven days before Djokovic, whom he met at age 11.

"If we knew back then that we were going to fight for the biggest trophies in the sport," Djokovic said, "I think we would both sign the document."

When he assured his return to the final 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 the rain this week that jumbled the schedule, the semifinals were played simultaneously, and tickets to Lenglen went for a bargain-basement rate of $22, creating what Djokovic called an "amazing ambiance, atmosphere." He thrived in it, never allowing Thiem, 22 — "a leader of a new generation," Djokovic said — to get a foothold in his first Slam semifinal.

"Best performance of the tournament," declared Djokovic, an 11-time major champion.

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.

Sunday's meeting will be the 34th between Djokovic and Murray (Djokovic leads 23-10) and 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."

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