Going grand: Novak slams, Serena toils

11:27 am on 6 June 2016

OPINION: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams arrived at the French Open in Paris seeking their own brand of tennis immortality. Only Djokovic left the red clay courts a winner.

By outplaying Scot Andy Murray in the men's final, Djokovic, and the Grand Slams - the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US crowns - are the litmus test of true tennis greatness.

Djokovic has joined the likes of Agassi, Federer and Nadal and holds four Grand Slams at the same time. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

By outplaying Scotsman Andy Murray in the men's final, Djokovic won his 12th Grand Slam title, and the Grand Slams - the Australian, French, Wimbledon and US crowns - are the litmus test of true tennis greatness.

Just as importantly for Djokovic, his victory meant he had now achieved a "career Grand Slam". Only eight men have won all four Grand Slam titles, and Djokovic now sits alongside legendary figures Fred Perry, Donald Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Because the Grand Slams take place on different surfaces, winning all of them is quite a challenge.

For example, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg could never win on the clay in Paris. Bjorn Borg could never win the US Open. Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Ken Rosewall were continually thwarted by Wimbledon's grass.

Novak Djokovic hoists the French Open trophy aloft in Paris

Novak Djokovic hoists the French Open trophy aloft in Paris. Photo: AFP

Djokovic, just turned 29, steams on. He's not the most glamorous figure - he does not have the mystery of Borg, the obvious fire of Jimmy Connors or McEnroe or the grace of Federer, but he is some player.

Already on the list of Grand Slam winners he sits fourth equal with Emerson on 12. Who would bet against him rivalling Federer's record of 17 before he is done?

He has most bases covered - temperament, power, endurance, ability to minimise errors.

His next stop is Wimbledon later this month, but he will be eyeing an Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. Nadal, Andy Murray and, in doubles, Federer, have won Olympic golds. Djokovic will not feel his career CV is complete without one as well.

Serena Williams Italian Open 2016

Serena Williams at the Italian Open this year. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Serena Williams arrived in Paris having won 21 Grand Slam singles titles. One more would mean she equals Steffi Graf on 22, the modern record. Margaret Court is the overall leader, with 24.

She was beaten in straight sets in the final in Paris by the 22-year-old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.

Last year, Williams peeled off victories in the Australian and French and at Wimbledon. With her massive service, all-court power and indomitable will to win, she seemed unstoppable.

But the sands of time are running out fast. Williams turns 35 in September, and in tennis terms that's senior citizen status.

At the US Open she lost to Italian Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals. In Australia in January she was beaten by German Angelique Kerber in the final.

Williams is stranded on 21. That's still fantastic, of course, but when you're jostling for the title of greatest ever, it is like failing to take the last few steps up Mt Everest.

It is possible Williams might now be ruing her sometimes unprofessional attitude earlier in her career. She won her first Grand Slam title, the US Open (with victory over Martina Hingis) in 1999, aged 17.

It is true she has had health problems since - a knee injury cost her eight months, and a pulmonary embolism put her out for a year and nearly killed her. But early on she would often turn up for big events out of shape and unprepared. Her record was spotty for someone of her gifts.

In recent years, as history has beckoned, she has applied herself well and her record has been spectacular. Sadly for her, with age catching up, she seems reduced lately to the role of being a magnanimous loser in major matches.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.