Novak Djokovic reached the top of the tennis mountain on Sunday, beating Casper Ruud in straight sets to win the French Open men’s singles for the third time and more.
The most important victory of his illustrious career to date, Djokovic staked his claim to being the greatest men’s tennis player of all time, with a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
Djokovic beat Ruud 7-6 (1), 6-3, 7-5. On her second match point, Djokovic guided Ruud to a final forehand off the court and fell on his back. He then knelt down in the middle of the court to pray and head to the stands to hug his family and coaches.
“I feel I have the power to shape my destiny,” Djokovic said on the podium at the trophy celebration. “If you want a better future, you can create it.”
Tournament after tournament, Djokovic has spent most of the past two decades chasing rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two other giants who defined this era of modern tennis. That race is over, at least for now.
The 36-year-old Djokovic overtook the retired Federer last summer to win his 21st Grand Slam title on Wimbledon’s grassy center court, which Federer has long dominated. Djokovic won the Australian Open again in January. The 22nd title tied Nadal, who missed this year’s French Open due to injury.
On Sunday, a large crowd of fans waved the Serbian flag and shouted his name, and he won again, this time breaking records, among the star cast prepared for the occasion.
Retired NFL quarterback Tom Brady sat next to Djokovic’s wife Jelena. French football star Kylian Mbappe and Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic sat a few rows up on the court. American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, tennis icons Yannick Noah and Stan Smith, and many French actors, singers, businessmen and athletes were also in the stands.
Djokovic did just that on the red clay of the Philippe Chatrier court at the French Open, where Nadal has won a staggering 14 times. A silver statue of the Spanish champion whipping his forehand stands just a few hundred yards away.
Djokovic’s journey was anything but smooth. It was a period of one self-inflicted crisis after another, epic on-court battles with Nadal and Federer, early and mid-career fallow periods, sometimes due to injuries and sometimes to not give up qualification. It was full of times when I was forced to miss a tournament. his principle. His most seemingly impossible task was to win the hearts and minds of tennis fans that long ago promised him the first two of the so-called Big Three.
Then there was the simple problem of mathematics. At the end of 2010, when Djokovic was 23 years old and five years after his first major appearance, Federer had already won 16 Grand Slam titles, second only to Djokovic’s one. rice field. The idea that Djokovic might one day catch Federer, or even a nine-card Nadal, would have been ludicrous.
But as 2011 dawned, Djokovic took the sport by storm, winning the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon that year. He went on a 41-game winning streak, 10-1 against Federer and Nadal. Tennis has changed like never before.
No one can explain what happened since then. Experimenting with a new strict gluten-free diet, no alcohol, and spending time in a pressurized egg-shaped room all paid off in the process. The same goes for the stretching and gymnastics habits that have turned Djokovic into a racket-wielding rubber band, likely helping to keep injuries at bay.
Djokovic said the chip on his shoulder, which he carried since childhood during the Serbian War, was not damaged.
Djokovic’s current coach, Croatian Goran Ivanisevic, said Djokovic had a Balkan fighting spirit in his DNA that could not be matched by anyone from outside the region.
Former German champion Boris Becker, who coached Djokovic for three years, says he punished himself for indiscretions that neither Djokovic nor Becker elaborated on during Djokovic’s losing streak in Grand Slam finals. rice field. Becker said Djokovic had learned to forgive himself and when he could do that, he was liberated and started winning without giving up.
The numbers after that ignore simple explanations. With Sunday’s victory, Djokovic regained the top spot in the world rankings for his record 388th week. In addition to his Grand Slam tournament title record, he also holds the Masters 1000 title record. Just in case some Nadal or Federer fans want to accuse him of being just an editor, Djokovic has a winning record against both Nadal and Federer. .
Ruud, 24, is a stable and determined Norwegian who has played in his third Grand Slam final in 13 months, and his desire to turn Sunday into something other than a coronation is typical of Djokovic. Gone at the end of the first set fight that ended. .
“It’s hard to explain how good I am,” Ruud told his rivals after the game.
Former world No. 1 Andy Roddick famously said of Djokovic, “First he wants his legs, then he wants his soul.”
It was about what Djokovic did to Ruud early Sunday morning on his way to history.
History tells us that Ruud needs to win the first set if he has any chance of winning. He’s played hundreds of Grand Slam matches over the years, but has lost just five times since Djokovic won the first set.
Ruud broke Djokovic’s serve to start the match, and as Djokovic played a shaky first game, negating overheads and pushing forehands and backhands out of the court, Ruud was almost error-free and seemingly 100 points behind. Played dangerous tennis and marked the best moments. of his career.
But then came the Djokovic that tennis has known and feared for decades. With Ruud’s serve looming near the finish line in the first set at 4-2, Djokovic indulged in one of the classic hard-hitting rallies, running back and forth from corner to corner to keep points for a long time. rice field. that’s all. The match ended in the usual fashion – an exhausted opponent struggling for oxygen and throwing the ball into the net.
Once again, Ruud was two points away from taking the set with the strength of a back-legged lob. But Djokovic countered his threat by hitting about 12 shots for the next four points.
In most tennis matches, when a set transitions to a tiebreak, the outcome resembles a coin toss. It’s a method that rarely works for Djokovic, for Sunday, and for this tournament as a whole, and on the biggest stage of recent times with a mid-30s dominance.
it’s not an accident. Last week, he said his mind would go into a state of hyper-focus as the tiebreak kicks in, as he uses everything at his disposal to “stay in the present” and play each point on its merits. explained.
He started this match with a lunging forehand winner down the line and finished seven points later with another explosive forehand, but Ruud didn’t even bother to make a run, but that’s the difference. I didn’t think it would produce At the end of the day, Djokovic had played 55 points in the tournament tiebreaker and had yet to commit an unforced error.
For 1 hour and 22 minutes, Ruud has gone head-to-head with Djokovic, matching sprints and shots and shots on shots at long distances, and only rubbery legs and a bruised mind can prove it. was. Ruud was not always like that, but he persisted in his search for scraps, pushed the match to over three hours, and swept the crowd into a rousing third-set wave, chanting “Novak, Novak, lou ou ou udo”. We negotiated. But after the first set it was only a matter of time.
Ruud has lost 11 sets in five matches against Djokovic.
In all this triumphant fog, it can be hard to recall a string of conflicts, even recent ones. Last year, he spent days in Australian detention pending deportation hearings. But 2020 also saw an ugly moment when he accidentally slammed a ball down a linesman’s throat and was banned from the US Open. The following month, Nadal defeated him in straight sets in the postponed French Open final. Djokovic seemed ready for another walk in the wilderness.
Instead, he was one match away from winning all four majors in 2021, beating Nadal at Roland Garros en route.
He already has his first two wins this year. After winning 23 Grand Slams, history still has to be made.