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Novak Djokovic wins his 23rd Grand Slam title by beating Casper Ruud in the French Open final

Novak Djokovic wins his 23rd Grand Slam title by beating Casper Ruud in the French Open final


PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic has made it clear for years that this is his goal. What motivated him. What inspired him. The biggest titles from the biggest stages of his sport were Djokovic’s main goal and now he is finally alone – ahead of Rafael Nadal, ahead of Roger Federer, ahead of all the men who have ever handled a racket.

If Djokovic could wait that long to hold on this recordhe could certainly wait the half hour or so it took him to straighten his punches the Roland Garros final. And that’s how, after a somewhat chaotic start in thick, humid air and under worrying clouds on Sunday, he won. The opponent of the court Philippe Chatrier, Casper Ruud, did not really have any serious luck thereafter.

Djokovic won his 23rd Grand Slam singles championship, men’s recordbreaking the tie with Nadal and moving three past retired Federer, with a 7-6(1), 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ruud who was in no doubt for most of his 3 hours and 13 minutes.

Djokovic puts this one alongside the French Open titles he won in 2016 and 2021, making him the only man with at least three titles in every major tournament. He won his first-ever Australian Open title in 2008 and now has a total of 10 trophies, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open.

“I knew before the tournament, before the match, especially today, that there was history at stake, but I’m trying to focus my attention and my thoughts on preparing for this match as best as possible. possible way to win, like any other match,” said Djokovic, wearing a red jacket with “23” stitched on his chest. “Of course I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about the finish line which is right there and it still takes one game to win a trophy, a historic trophy.”

Also worth noting: he’s once again halfway to a Grand Slam in a calendar year – winning all four majors in a single season – something no man has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic came close in 2021, when he won the Australian Open, the French Open. and Wimbledon and reached the title match at the US Open before losing to Daniil Medvedev.

Djokovic will resume this pursuit at Wimbledon, which begins at the All England Club on July 3.

“He has this software in his head that he can activate when a Grand Slam is coming,” said his coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “The day we arrived here, he was better, he was more motivated, he was hungrier. Every day he was playing better and better.

At the start of the 2011 season, this is what the Grand Slam tally looked like: 16 for Federer, nine for Nadal, one for Djokovic.

“Pretty decent 12 years, I must say, for me,” Djokovic said with a smile.

The rise began with a trio that year and has accelerated lately: he has won the trophy at 11 of the last 20 Grand Slams, a remarkable run all the more considering he did not participate in two major tournaments during this period because he did not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Djokovic was kicked out in January 2021 ahead of the Australian Open and he wasn’t allowed to travel to the United States until last year’s US Open under a rule that has since been lifted .

Reaching 23 not only sets a benchmark for men, but also allows Djokovic to match Serena Williams, who ended her career last year, as the most of them all in the Open era, which began in 1968. Margaret Court won some of her all. -record of 24 Grand Slam trophies in the amateur era.

At 20 days shy of his 36th birthday, the Serb is the oldest singles champion at French Open, considered the most grueling of major tournaments due to the long grinding spikes required by the red clay, which is slower than grass or hard courts underfoot elsewhere. .

Nadal’s 22nd major arrived in Paris a year ago, two days after turning 36. He was sidelined since January by a hip injury and underwent arthroscopic surgery on June 2.

“Congratulations on this amazing achievement,” Nadal tweeted shortly after the final ended. “23 is a number that was (impossible) to think of just a few years ago, and you have achieved it! »

Djokovic’s triumph on Sunday means he will return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings on Monday, replacing Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic has already spent more weeks in the top spot than any player – male or female – since computerized tennis rankings were created half a century ago.

It was Djokovic who eliminated Alcaraz in the semi-finals Thursday, exhausting him over two thrilling sets until the 20-year-old Spaniard’s body contracted badly. Alcaraz continued to play, but the scores in the final two sets of the four-set match were telling: 6-1, 6-1.

It was the third Grand Slam final in the last five events for Ruud, a 24-year-old Norwegian, but he is now 0-3. He lost to Nadal at Roland-Garros a year ago and to Alcaraz at the US Open last September.

Perhaps due to his awareness of all that was at stake, Djokovic, in his 34th major final, is one who got off to a rocky start.

“Maybe I feel a little nervous, a little stressed,” Ruud said of his opponent.

But by the end of the first set, Djokovic was downright Djokovic-esque, as he was taking 12 of the game’s final 13 points, most of it accompanied by the thunderous chants of the spectators of his two-syllable nickname, “No-le ! No it! No!

When a final error from Ruud landed, Djokovic fell on his back with his limbs wide apart.

“Somehow he pushes you to take more risks, and that’s hard,” Ruud said. “He just stepped up, like he knows how to do.”

At first, however, Djokovic kept missing forehands – into the net, wide, long – then made another kind of error, sending a ball over the net well beyond the opposite baseline. to break and trail 2-0.

For some reason, this shot has always been Djokovic’s ‘pet peeve’, and he missed another one later in the set.

Soon Ruud was leading 4-1, thanks in part to Djokovic’s troubles. By then, Djokovic had accumulated 13 unforced errors, while Ruud had only committed four.

And then everything changed.

After finishing the first set with 18 unforced errors, Djokovic recalibrated, with just 14 over the last two sets combined.

Then it was Ruud’s turn to miss a ball over his head, stepping back and laying his own in the net to end a 29-shot point. Djokovic’s first break of serve made it 4-3, and he clenched his right fist.

“A bit devastating,” Ruud said.

They went to a tiebreaker, real domination of Djokovic. When the importance increases, along with the tension, it simply excels.

“He kind of goes into that mode,” Ruud said, “where he becomes like a wall.”

During the first-to-7 segment, Djokovic contributed four winners and no unforced errors.

That made his career mark in 308-162 tiebreakers, a .655 winning percentage. In 2023, he is 15-4, including 6-0 in Paris – there have been 55 points played in that half-dozen, and Djokovic’s unforced error total was zero.

“He just stepped in,” Ruud said. “Either he plays ridiculous defense or he plays beautiful winners. He just doesn’t make any mistakes.

This set alone lasted 1 hour and 21 minutes, filled with extended exchanges, the kind of points on which entire stories could be written. There were some that lasted 20, 25, 29 moves. One of them was won by Ruud with a back-to-the-net shot between the legs. On another, Djokovic tumbled behind the baseline, smearing his red shirt, blue shorts and skin with the rust-colored clay.

Djokovic’s moves, stretches, bends and twists in defense are on the scoreboard, that’s for sure. But all long stitches also sap an opponent’s energy and willpower.

“It’s just boring to me,” Ruud said, “but it’s very, very impressive.”

When Djokovic took the lead to lead 3-0 in the second set, his powers now fully visible, he slapped his right index finger against his temple again and again. He turned to his neighboring box in the stands, where the group included Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s wife and two children, his parents, his agent and even seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.

The retired Brady is widely regarded as the NFL’s ‘greatest of all time’ – or ‘GOAT’, for short – and there has been debate in the tennis world for some time as to which of Djokovic’s , Nadal or Federer deserve this nickname.

If the barometer is that of the Grand Slam championships, no one can dispute Djokovic’s status for the moment.

“I leave these kinds of discussions about ‘who’s the greatest? to someone else. I have, of course, great confidence in myself and in everything that I am, who I am and what I am capable of doing,” Djokovic said during his press conference, with the Coupes des Mousquetaires running out of steam. arms. “So this trophy is obviously another confirmation of the quality of tennis that I’m still capable of producing, I think.”


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