Novak Djokovic has achieved his goal of surpassing Rafa Nadal for the most single Grand Slam titles won by securing his third French Open championships to take his total to 23, one better than his rival with whom he has shared the record since he won the Australian Open last January.
I knew that going into the tournament, going into the match especially today, that there is history on the line Novak Djokovic
The Serb, who ultimately wants to be remembered as the best player ever in the sport (GOAT), beat his Norwegian challenger Casper Ruud 7-6(1) 6-3 7-5 with the first person to congratulate him, being Nadal himself, who tweeted: “Many congrats on this amazing achievement @DjokerNole. 23 is a number that just a few years back was impossible to think about, and you made it Enjoy it with your family and team!”
The Spaniard who holds a record 14 French Open titles, was side-lined this year following hip surgery to clear a problem he picked up in Melbourne but promises to be back next year.
“I am delighted to be here in this very specific moment in my career,” Djokovic told the crowd during the presentation ceremony.
“It is no coincidence winning my 23rd Grand Slam here in Paris. This tournament has always been the hardest for me to win, so I am very emotional right now.
“This means a lot. I have experienced a lot of emotions on this court and I’m really proud and honoured to share it on this special court.”
For Nadal, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow as his long-time rival’s achievement came on the one court the Spaniard could call his own and the one event where the Serb had struggled, unlike the other majors.
While he continues to notch up records – at 36 and 20 days he is now the oldest French Open champion as well taking over from Nadal! – he concedes when stating: “I don’t want to say that I am the greatest, because I feel, I’ve said it before, it’s disrespectful towards all the great champions in different eras of our sport that was played in completely different way than it is played today.
“So I feel like each great champion of his own generation has left a huge mark, a legacy, and paved the way for us to be able to play this sport in such a great stage worldwide.”
Djokovic started the match tentatively, no doubt weighed down by the expectations he was carrying on his shoulders but recovered from dropping 3-0 behind in the opening set which included a 12-minutes second game.
Ruud kept up the pressure to lead 4-1 but the Djokovic serve not only found its range, but his return game picked up as well as he countered Ruud’s powerful serving and fierce forehand to pull back the deficit and level at 4-4.
Ruud managed to halt any further progress to take his chances in the tie-break where he only managed one point as Djokovic’s play became more dominant in what was the third seed’s fifth tie-break of the fortnight, all won by him, delivering four winners to clinch the 90-minute opener.
Following a ‘comfort break’ for both players, Djokovic maintained control to leap into a 3-0 lead and while Ruud battled valiantly, it became obvious he wouldn’t be preventing the two-time Roland Garros champion from making it three, though he did push him the third.
“He kind of pressures you in a way to go for more risks,” Ruud revealed. “That is tough because obviously against him you want to try to play as aggressive as possible, because if you’re too much on the defence he’ll just control the game.”
It was the third Grand Slam final that the 24-year-old Ruud has now played, two at Roland Garros, and while he had hoped that it would be third time lucky, he leaves knowing that his level in finals has improved vastly for he had his chances in the first set.
“I think this is maybe the most important final that I reached, honestly,” Ruud declared.
“Because first time was, yes, very cool. But here I sort of proved that whatever happened last year is just not like a one-time case. Even for next year when we come back to Roland Garros, people are going to look, ‘Oh, Casper didn’t just make one final, but he made it twice’.
“Probably going to plant some respect in my opponents’ eyes and hopefully I can build on that, and one day I’m gonna try to obviously aim for a Slam title.”
But while Ruud reflects on his positives, the day certainly belonged to Djokovic, for, in lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a third time, he achieved a third ‘career slam’ in another first of the men’s game. He is now also halfway to achieving a proper ‘Calendar’ Grand Slam, namely all four majors in the same season, which he has missed twice before – 2016 and 2021.
“I knew that going into the tournament, going into the match especially today, that there is history on the line,” Djokovic admitted. “But I try to focus my attention and my thoughts into preparing for this match in the best way possible to win like any other match.”
He also made a concession in admitting that at 36, the ageing process was a factor.
“I also am aware that even though I don’t like to think about the age or age is just a number, it sounds like a cliché, but I really feel age is just a number in my case.
“Truth of the matter is, and reality is, my body is responding differently, so I have to deal with more things physically than I have had maybe in the past. Maybe five to 10 years ago I was recovering much quicker or just didn’t feel as much pain in the body and the beating that I’m feeling today.
“Of course, the journey is still not over,” Djokovic concluded. “I feel if I’m winning slams, why even think about ending the career that already has been going on for 20 years.
“I still feel motivated, I still feel inspired to play the best tennis on these tournaments the most, Grand Slams. Those are the ones that count I guess the most in history of our sport.
“I look forward already to Wimbledon.”
Where he will be defending his title!