There is no doubt about it: This French Open was a disappointment for Novak Djokovic. The standards he had set coming in were so astronomically high that anything less than a winner's trophy just wasn't going to do.
However, despite the fact that he fell to Stan Wawrinka in four physical sets in the final, there's no need for the Serb or his fans to panic.
As Djokovic stood in the middle of Court Philippe-Chatrier following his 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 loss in the final, and the typically fickle French crowd stood on their feet cheering for minutes on end in appreciation of his efforts not just on this day but throughout his career, there was a sense of hope right alongside the heartbreak.
He will win this title before his career is over, possibly multiple times. Djokovic's (Sun)day will come in Paris. He will capture the career Grand Slam. He's too talented of a player, too determined of a competitor and too comfortable on the clay courts for him to be denied much longer.
In fact, there are actually a few positives that Djokovic can take from this fortnight.
After all, he did clear one of his biggest tennis hurdles last week when he took out Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals. Previously, Djokovic was 0-6 against the nine-time French Open champion in Paris, and the Spaniard had thwarted his Roland Garros hopes the past three years in a row, twice in the final and once in the semis.
But in their match this year, Djokovic was better in every conceivable way, from forehand to fight, from movement to mentality. Going forward, he'll have that monkey off of his back, which should only bolster his confidence.
Djokovic also beat a roaring Andy Murray in a two-day-long semifinal match, thus further extending his recent dominance over the Big Four.
On Sunday in the final, Djokovic merely ran out of gears and ran into a player stuck in accelerate. The Serb didn't really do anything wrong. There will be shots that he'll want back, certainly, and he'll particularly lament not capitalizing on his 0-40 look at Wawrinka's service game late in the fourth set. But Djokovic played well.
Wawrinka, a veteran who won a major last year and is comfortable on the big stages, won this match by playing the absolute best tennis of his career, and even then he barely hung onto the victory.
"I played my best tennis today," the 30-year-old said after the match to John McEnroe on NBC. "It was an amazing match, amazing level."
Djokovic, classy in defeat as always, was quick to praise his opponent. Wawrinka dictated the match, he stepped up in the most pressure-filled moments. He never lost his nerve to go for the big shots.
As strange as it sounds, this is something that Djokovic can learn from. While such a heartbreaking loss would destroy others, Djokovic is too fierce of a competitor to let that happen. This loss will keep him from becoming complacent. This loss will push him to work that much harder, to become that much better. He will bounce back from this stronger than ever.
For the rest of the tour, that's a scary thought considering the fact that Djokovic is firmly in the prime of his career. As Roger Federer's phenomenal swan song marches on and Rafa Nadal's decline begins, Djokovic is still reaching new heights.
Throughout 2015, Djokovic has been by far the best player in the world. He was 35-2 coming into Paris, had won every Masters or Slam even he'd entered since last November and hadn't lost since February. He still sits at No. 1, over 4,000 points above No. 2 Federer. While that makes this loss sting a bit more because he was the favorite coming in, it should also give him hope that there's more greatness to come.
He's 28 years old and likely has at least three or four more years left to contend for major titles. That's plenty of time to win the French Open.
If he does get frustrated, Djokovic must remember that he isn't the only legend of the sport who has had trouble winning the clay-court Slam.
Andre Agassi made his first Slam semifinal and his first Slam final at the French, and after making the final back-to-back years in 1990 and 1991, it seemed like it would be his best major. However, it took Agassi 13 years and 11 trips to Paris to walk away with the title—he finally won it in 1999 at the age of 29 to complete his career Slam.
Federer, too, famously struggled to win at Roland Garros, mainly because of Nadal's dominance. The 17-time Slam champion lost in three French Open finals before finally winning in 2009 at the age of 27, also in his 11th time at the tournament.
Djokovic isn't that far off from these two. He, too, has now lost in three finals like Federer. Next year at the tournament, he will be 29, like Agassi. Those players should give Djokovic and his fans plenty of hope that the future is bright.
Really, though, the most monumental thing that happened for Djokovic this year at the French Open is that he became the sentimental favorite, a role that the Serb has never really played before.
The French crowd is brutal and unforgiving, and they never really knew what to make of Djokovic before. They "boo" at the drop of a hat and often don't appreciate his theatrics. Djokovic is a player who relishes crowd support and wants to be loved so badly by his peers and the fans.
On Sunday, at long last, the Parisian crowd showered him with that love.
"The French crowd gave Djokovic an extended standing ovation normally reserved for the champion, and tears welled in his eyes," Ed McGrogan wrote for Tennis.com. "They want him to win this title, someday, and you can bet Djokovic will remember that moment the next time he takes to the terre battue."
Djokovic isn't leaving Paris this year with a career Slam as most of us expected him to, but he is leaving with a monkey off of his back, with determination to get better and with the prime of his career extending ahead of him.
He's leaving more loved and more experienced, more weathered but hopefully none-the-more weary.
He's not there yet, but he's getting closer. That's more than enough of a reason for Djokovic to keep his head held high and to keep the French Open faith alive.