Great Serb Novak Djokovic widens gap with chasing pack

Djokovic drops first set but rallies to crush Murray in French Open Tennis Championship

Andy Murray might be the only player left standing between Novak Djokovic and the next stage of his seemingly unstoppable ascent to new levels of greatness. If the new French Open champion, now the owner of 12 majors, holds his fitness, commitment and aura, there is no reason he cannot reach an untouchable zenith in the game, perhaps owning 20 grand slam titles or more by the time he retires.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant,” Djokovic said after defeating Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in the final on Sunday, “but I really think everything is achievable in life.”

The Scot has to wipe the Parisian clay from his shoes quickly after losing in four sets against the great Serb – blowing a one-set lead and several other chances – if he is to make the most of the slick home grass of Wimbledon, where Djokovic waits for the next challenge in his quest for a calendar slam. All that can stop his momentum is disappointment in SW19. Bookmakers and nearly everyone else in the game think that is unlikely.

Raging favourite

If Djokovic successfully defends his title against a diminished field –


Rafael Nadal

, already wounded in recent grass campaigns, is unlikely to play, and

Roger Federer

is ailing too – he will go to New York in September as a raging favourite to sweep the majors of 2016. It would be no more than his exceptional talent deserves and

Rod Laver

, the last man to do the slam, in 1969 – for the second time – would be the first to applaud him.

The 77-year-old Australian was among the transfixed spectators on Court Philippe Chatrier when the sun broke through and Djokovic began a courtside celebration of his win against Murray after three hours, three minutes of raucous struggle.

He witnessed the degradation of Murray’s tennis as Djokovic’s razor-like ground strokes cut him to shreds on both flanks, pinning him yards behind the baseline in nearly every exchange. The gap between Djokovic and Murray at the top of the world rankings has now stretched to 8,035 points, the only comfort for the Scot being the fact he is at the head of the trailing pack. And who among the others is equipped to stop Djokovic in a seven-match, best-of-five-sets tournament – on any surface?

Nadal, two majors ahead of Djokovic, and Federer, who heads the board with 17, do not look to have enough left. The Spaniard, just turned 30, has torn tendons in his lethal left wrist, the weapon with which he drives his wicked top-spun forehand. Last week he withdrew from the Queen’s Club tournament. This week he probably will say that Wimbledon is beyond him, too. That injury might yet prove to be more than a late-career inconvenience, which would be a great shame.

As for the 34-year-old Swiss, Federer withdrew from the French Open before the tournament to give his painful back more time to heal, and he might recover for one final flurry at the place where he once was king, but another triumph is unlikely. He came close to beating Djokovic at Wimbledon two years ago in a minor classic, but was not in the hunt in the final last year. Djokovic is simply the nonpareil of the moment.

Complete respect

Respect in the locker room and beyond for the game’s undisputed champion is complete.

This is the environment in which Murray now operates: the Novak era. The Scot has no full-time lead coach to replace the recently disenchanted Amélie Mauresmo, and he must cope with the disappointment of falling short at Roland Garros, where John McEnroe reckoned he had his best chance to break through on clay.

McEnroe, mischievously perhaps, would still welcome a phone call to discuss that vacancy. Instead, the former champion goes to Wimbledon as a "consultant/coach" with the Canadian Milos Raonic, squeezing that part-time commitment in between engagements in the commentary box for the BBC.

“I don’t recall ever getting a call,” he joked during a long conversation in Paris. “When you look at someone who’s that good you’re always interested – speaking for myself, I can’t speak for everyone. It depends on what type of commitment you’re talking about and for how long. There was never any discussion. I never heard from anyone.”

Cream of crop

McEnroe likes the concept of former players advising the current crop. “It’s been a win-win for Boris [Becker] and Novak. I think clearly my old rival

Ivan Lendl

made a positive difference with Andy. He won a couple of majors. You’re talking about the cream of the crop.”

Does he think Lendl might one day return to help Murray? “I think it would be an interesting thought. He had great success before [two slams and an Olympic gold medal] and I don’t see why he would not do it. I am not sure [about]ggage that took place when they broke up. I’m not sure why that happened. I don’t know if that was really mutual or if it was Andy or Ivan.

“I don’t know if it is like going back out with your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend – I don’t know if it was that extreme. On paper, potentially, [it] makes some sense to me.”

However, McEnroe, who sees Lendl from time to time around Florida, said he had heard he had fitness issues. “He has had some surgeries, I think. A hip surgery, a couple of surgeries, I believe. I hear about him from a buddy of mine who is a trainer on the seniors tour who tries to keep us in one piece. He lives near Ivan so I hear things about Ivan.”

The American was full of praise for the work Jamie Delgado has done with Murray since Mauresmo left his employment in Madrid last month.

“But he might want to bring in a second guy,” McEnroe said, “the ‘looking for some extra-attention guy’.”