Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends the trophy ceremony after being defeated by Rafael Nadal of Spain during their men's singles final match at the French Open Tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris June 8, 2014. Photo by Vincent Kessler, Reuters.
PARIS - Beating Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros is not impossible but it requires sustaining a furious pace over five sets which, as Novak Djokovic experienced in Sunday's French Open final, is easier said than done.
Djokovic made a brilliant start to win the first set but suffered a lapse in form by the end of the second that carried through most of the third and eventually lost 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 as Spain's world number one claimed a record-extending ninth title.
Serbian second seed Djokovic, looking to complete a career grand slam in Paris, had won four of their last eight meetings on clay but had never prevailed in a best-of-five match on the surface, indicating the size of the mountain he was attempting to climb in hot and humid conditions.
Sunday's loss was his sixth in as many attempts against Nadal at Roland Garros, where the man from Mallorca now holds a 66-1 record.
"It's not impossible, but it's very, very difficult to stay with Rafa on this court throughout the whole match on the highest level of performance," he told reporters.
"It's normal that you have ups and downs. I was just hoping that in the fourth I would be able to come back. I started feeling a little bit better, but I wasn't managing to bring my A game when it was most needed in the end of the fourth.
"Definitely it's not easy, best of five, to play against him in these conditions."
Djokovic came closest to toppling Nadal in last year's semi-final when he lost 9-7 in the fifth, but Sunday's display lacked the consistency needed to push on for a deciding set.
After losing the second set, Djokovic looked exhausted and then lost his balance on his chair at the change of ends after falling 3-0 behind in the third.
Just like the 2012 final, Djokovic double-faulted on match point. This time, he was not helped by the crowd as two spectators shouted before the Serb's second serve.
Djokovic would not criticize the interruption, only saying it was part of the sport.
"When I play against Rafa, it's always an exciting match for us to play and for the crowd to see, so they get also involved in the match," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's very emotional. A lot of tension going on on the court. You can feel that. I cannot find excuses in the crowd. I cannot blame anybody."
Nadal was 4-2 up in the fourth set when Djokovic surged back into contention to level at 4-4, but when it really mattered the Spaniard came out on top.
"In the fourth set I started to feel a little bit better, but then just on the crucial points he played better. I wasn't playing at the level that I wanted, especially in the second part of the match," he explained.
"Congratulations to him. He was a better player in the crucial moments. Of course it's disappointing for me, but life goes on. It's not the first time or last time I lost a match."
(Editing by Josh Reich)