PARIS: They came, they saw but never conquered and now Novak Djokovic is staring into the same Paris abyss that swallowed up the Grand Slam ambitions of Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker.
The world number one lost his third final in four years at Roland Garros on Sunday when his hopes of becoming just the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam were swept away by Stan Wawrinka s tide of killer one-handed backhands.
His 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 defeat left Djokovic on eight majors — five Australian Opens, two Wimbledons and a single US Open success — against eight defeats in finals at the majors.
Djokovic will be back in 2016, when he will be 29, for another attempt, his 12th in total, but statistics and history threaten to conspire against him.
Sampras won 14 majors — seven Wimbledons, five titles in New York and two in Australia. But 13 times the great American tried to win the French Open and 13 times he failed.
His best was a semi-final in 1996 and his last appearance at the age of 30 was in 2002 when he lost first round to patched-up Italian journeyman Andrea Gaudenzi, who was ranked 69.
“I don t want to say it s a jinx,” said Sampras at the time.
Edberg won twice each in Australia, Wimbledon and at the US Open, but his best Paris performance was runner-up to a teenage Michael Chang in 1989, with his classical serve-and-volley game horribly unsuited to the slow clay.
“At the time I thought I played a great tournament and I thought I would get another chance to win it, but I never really got another chance after that,” the Swede told CNN.
Like Sampras, Edberg played 13 times at Roland Garros, the last time as a 30-year-old in 1996.
Becker, who was close at hand on Sunday as Djokovic s coach, tried nine times to win the French Open and add the title to his three Wimbledons, two Australian and one US Open.
But he had to settle for three semi-final spots in 1987, 1989 and 1991, playing the tournament for the last time as a 27-year-old.
John McEnroe also flopped in Paris, the four-time US Open and three-time Wimbledon winner having to console himself with a runners-up spot against Ivan Lendl in 1984. When he last appeared as a player he was 33.
Even the traditionally fickle Paris crowd expressed their sympathy with Djokovic s plight on Sunday, according him a lengthy standing ovation as he stood for the third time as a runner-up on the podium.
Djokovic was in tears by the end of it, although he insisted he d keep trying to secure the title.
He may have time on his side — even if the gut feeling remains that this year was his best opportunity, having disposed of nine-time winner Nadal in the quarter-finals and longtime rival Andy Murray in the semis.
But there is another statistic that could concern the Serb. He now has a record of eight wins from his 16 Grand Slam finals.
Roger Federer can boast 17 Slam titles in 24 finals and Nadal 14 trophies and six losses.
Djokovic s defeat on Sunday ended his 28-win streak just as his 2011 semi-final loss to Federer halted a 41-match unbeaten run.
In cricket, that kind of record may be interpreted as one of a “flat track bully”. But Djokovic insists that it s getting tougher to rack up the majors.
“I think people tend to create more of a story where it s just me,” he said. “It feels like I m the only player who wants to win this trophy and nobody wants to win it as much as I do; this is completely untrue.”
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