Novak Djokovic must have woken up on Monday morning with feelings of anguish, torment and confusion – the Serbian star has suffered a huge mental blow at this year’s French Open, and it won’t be easy to patch up again.
The world no.1, on the back of a 28-match winning streak, having finally dethroned ‘The King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal in his Paris stronghold, simply had to win the French Open for the very first time and complete his Career Slam which has been readied for nearly four years now.
Waking up with a third runners-up medal will be undoubtedly the lowest moment in his professional career.
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Maybe Djokovic could have sought closure in the brilliance of Nadal if it was the Spaniard who did him again in the French capital. No disrespect to Stan Wawrinka – who 100% deserved the title – but the Swiss no.2 is not great enough to deny the great Djokovic, this was only his fourth win in their 21 meetings.
The eight-time Grand Slam champion has already admitted the pain he is feeling after seeing his first challenge as the tournament favourite pass empty-handed again, having previously been the main antagonist in Nadal’s journey to nine French Open titles.
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"Of course it hurts, especially because it was in the final. I think I have played a great clay-court season, a great Roland Garros," Djokovic said. "I came to the position to really win this trophy. I was set up and was really in the match and trying to play tactically as I intended.
"But he just found the solutions on the court. This is sport. That's what happens on this level. You have to accept the loss."
Where does the 27-year-old go from here? Anybody who endures an earth shattering moment is left feeling an emptiness inside and forgets any real sense of direction, it will be no different for Djokovic.
He has done everything else – Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, Masters Series’ and Tour Finals – the one he has left is Roland Garros and it will now be another 12 months before he can try again.
How on earth is he supposed to pick himself up from that? He literally could not have had any more momentum before or during the tournament, logic and history states that he’ll never come in to a French Open final with such form again.
It will now be a huge effort for him to copy the likes of current rivals Nadal and Roger Federer to complete the Career Slam, every loss in France will make the next time harder.
You look at Federer and Djokovic in comparison, both blighted by Nadal for years and years. Federer got one chance in 2009 to win, and he snatched that title – he hasn’t had another chance again. Djokovic was arguably better in creating his own chance, but he spurned it – will he ever get another chance?
Whatever happens over the next 11 months, no matter how many titles he wins, Djokovic will always feel this pain in the back of his mind.
A true test of his legend credentials will come next year.