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Novak Djokovic stands alone at the pinnacle of men’s tennis after defeating Casper Ruud to win his 23rd grand slam title at the French Open.
Since claiming his first at the Australian Open in 2008, Djokovic has been pursuing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal through the history books but now he has surpassed both having broken the record he jointly held with Nadal.
Djokovic’s 7-6 (1) 6-3 7-5 victory over Ruud draws him level with Serena Williams and he could equal Margaret Court’s all-time singles mark at Wimbledon next month.
The Serbian, meanwhile, also becomes the first man ever to win at least three slam titles at all the major tournaments – a measure of his all-round greatness.
Ruud had impressed in making it back to the final, where he won only six games against Nadal last year, and was looking for his first title in his third final having also lost to Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open.
He had failed to win a set in four previous matches against Djokovic, though, and missed his chance here in an 81-minute opener before the Serbian pulled away for his 21st consecutive slam victory.
This was the most humid day of the fortnight and, with black clouds looming, it appeared the match would be played under the roof on Philippe Chatrier only for the cover to be removed just before the start.
Ruud’s best chance was to make a fast start and take advantage of the nerves Djokovic would surely be feeling so close to a goal he has been pursuing relentlessly for years.
On his only previous shot at striking out on his own, at the US Open in 2021, he had rather frozen in sight of the line, losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final.
Ruud had read the script and came out sharp, exploiting Djokovic’s unusually leaden footwork with high shots to push his opponent back and breaking in the second game when the Serbian shanked a smash – the one remaining weakness in his game.
Djokovic had NFL great Tom Brady in his player box, while Kylian Mbappe and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were also in the crowd, and they witnessed Djokovic claw his way back, breaking in the seventh game after a punishing rally that ended with Ruud netting an overhead.
Djokovic refused to miss in another long rally after Ruud created a break point in the next game, but it was the third seed cursing himself for a missed opportunity at 4-4, with his irritation compounded when he lost his balance and fell sprawling to the clay.
Djokovic also complained vociferously to the umpire about the quick turnaround between games as the set extended beyond the hour mark.
The longer it went on, the more important it became to win it, and Ruud was two points away on Djokovic’s serve after winning a point with a tweener lob but that was as close as he would come.
One of Djokovic’s greatest strengths is the ability to raise his level at key moments and he won an absurd sixth tie-break of the tournament without making a single unforced error.
Given Djokovic had won his previous 100 slam matches once he had taken the opening set, it was a crushing blow for Ruud, and that was compounded when he dropped serve in the second game of the second set.
Djokovic now looked fully settled, with his forehand purring, and, although Ruud saved two set points at 2-5, the door was firmly shut in his face in the next game.
Ruud was now clinging on by his fingernails but he was determined not to allow Djokovic to run away with it, as Nadal had last year.
The Norwegian found a better rhythm on his serve and applied some pressure to Djokovic, although he was left cursing his luck when his opponent benefited from a lucky netcord down 0-30 at 3-4, giving the French crowd a final chance for a round of booing.
The question seemed to be when Djokovic would make his move, though, and it came at 5-5, a series of superlative groundstrokes earning him the break, and moments later his moment of history.
Nadal was among the first to hail the Serbian, tweeting: “Many congrats on this amazing achievement @DjokerNole. 23 is a number that just a few years back was imposible to think about, and you made it! Enjoy it with your family and team!”
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