Novak Djokovic wins his 23rd Grand Slam singles title by defeating

Norman Ray

Global Courant

PARIS — PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic made it clear for years that this was his goal. What drove him. What inspired him. The biggest titles from the biggest podiums in his sport have been Djokovic’s main goal and now he finally stands alone – ahead of Rafael Nadal, before Roger Federer, before every man who has ever swung a racket.

If Djokovic could wait that long to hold this record, he could certainly wait until the half hour it took to straighten out his blows in the French Open final. And so, after a somewhat shaky start in thick, humid air and under ominous charcoal clouds on Sunday, he pressed on. The opponent to Court Philippe Chatrier, Casper Ruud, actually didn’t stand a serious chance after that.

Djokovic earned his men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles championship, breaking a tie with Nadal and advancing three ahead of the retired Federer, with a 7-6(1), 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ruud that really wasn’t. in doubt for most of its 3 hours and 13 minutes.

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Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, ranks these alongside the French Open titles he won in 2016 and 2021, making him the only man with at least three from each major event. He has won 10 trophies at the Australian Open, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open.

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

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

He has now lifted the trophy in 11 of the last 20 Slams, a remarkable streak made all the more so when you consider that he missed two majors in that span because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. Djokovic was kicked out of Australia ahead of the Australian Open in January 2021 and was banned from flying to the United States ahead of last year’s US Open under a rule that has since been lifted.

Achieving 23 not only sets the tone for men, but it also ties Djokovic with Serena Williams, who finished her career last year, for most by anyone in the Open era, which began in 1968. Margaret Court won part of her all-time record of 24 Slam trophies in the amateur era.

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At 20 days after his 36th birthday, Djokovic is the oldest singles champion at Roland Garros, considered the most grueling of the majors due to the long, grinding points required by the red clay, which is slower than grass or hard courts elsewhere .

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

As if all that wasn’t enough, Djokovic’s victory on Sunday also means he returns to the number 1 spot in the ATP rankings on Monday, replacing Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic has spent more weeks in first place than any player – male or female – since the beginning of computerized tennis rankings half a century ago.

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It was Djokovic who knocked out Alcaraz in the semifinals on Thursday, exhausting him in two exciting sets until the 20-year-old Spaniard’s body cramped violently. Alcaraz continued to play, but the scores of the last two sets of the four-set match told the story: 6-1, 6-1.

For Ruud, a 24-year-old from Norway, this was the third Slam final in the past five events, but he is now 0-3. He lost to Nadal at the French Open a year ago and to Alcaraz at the US Open last September.

Perhaps because he was aware of all that was at stake, in his 34th grand final, Djokovic was the one who got off to a shaky start.

Ruud came out with a partial ovation and polite applause. More people rose to their feet as a roar reached Djokovic’s entrance, followed by thunderous chants of his two-syllable nickname, “No-le! No-le! No!” That chorus resumed just before play started – and repeatedly throughout the afternoon, sometimes to celebrate his best moments, sometimes to cheer him on.

As Djokovic snatched away 12 of the last 13 points to end things, he fell on his back with limbs spread wide at the finish, the shout of his name was thunderous.

The favorite way to greet Ruud? Prolonged, monotonous utterances of his last name – “Ruuuuuuuuuud” – that sounded like jeers, which, of course, they weren’t.

At first Ruud seemed to do everything he could to put Djokovic’s forehand, the weaker side, to the test. It paid off early on, as Djokovic kept missing that hit — into the net, wide, long — and then made another kind of foul, an overhead from near the net far beyond the opposite baseline to be broken and a 2- 0 to fall behind.

For whatever reason, that shot has always been Djokovic’s “bête noire,” and he missed another overhead later in the set.

Ruud soon led 4-1, partly thanks to Djokovic’s troubles. By that time, Djokovic had committed 13 unforced errors, while Ruud committed only four.

And then everything changed.

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

Then it was Ruud’s turn to flop an overhead, swing back and deposit his into the net to end a 29-stroke run. Djokovic’s first service break made it 4-3 and he shook his right fist.

They went to a tiebreak, truly Djokovic’s reign. When the imports rise along with the tension, he simply excels. Forever, it seems.

During the first-to-7 segment, Djokovic contributed four winners and zero unforced errors.

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

Read that again: zero.

That set alone lasted 1 hour and 21 minutes, packed with extensive exchanges, the kind of points about which whole stories could be written. There were those that lasted 20, 25, 29 strokes. One was won by Ruud using a shot between the legs from behind to the net. On another, Djokovic tumbled behind the baseline, smearing his red shirt, blue shorts and skin with the rust-colored clay.

Djokovic’s scrambling and stretching and bending and twisting in defense definitely gets on the scoreboard. But all the long points also sap an enemy’s energy and will.

Perhaps it also helps that Djokovic knows all the tricks of the trade. He complained to chairman Damien Dumusois about how much time was allotted for changeovers – a little extra rest never hurts, right? Djokovic took the 25-second service clock back until it expired and occasionally after that, so much so that a voice yelled from the seats, “Serve it!” And Dumusois warned him about the loss of time in the third set.

Breaking Ruud to lead 3-0 in the second set, his powers now on full display, Djokovic pushed his right index finger against his temple again and again. He turned to his closest box in the stands, where his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, was among the guests; his wife and two children; his agent; and even seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.

The recently retired Brady is widely regarded as the NFL’s “Greatest of All-Time” – or “GOAT” for short – and there has been a debate in the tennis world for quite some time over which of Djokovic, Nadal or Federer deserves that nickname.

If the barometer is Grand Slam championships, no one can dispute Djokovic’s status at this point.


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