PARIS, France (AFP) — Novak Djokovic created “incredible” history on Sunday (Monday in Manila) when he captured a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam title, reinforcing his case to be crowned the greatest player of all time.
The 36-year-old Serbian brushed off an early wobble to defeat Casper Ruud of Norway 7-6 (7/1), 6-3, 7-5 to win a third French Open title and snap the tie of 22 Slams he shared with career-long rival Rafael Nadal.
“It’s an incredible feeling to win 23. I’m beyond grateful and blessed to be standing here with so many incredible achievements,” Djokovic said.
Victory for the third time in Paris, after 2016 and 2021, adds to Djokovic’s 10 Australian Open titles, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open.
“It’s no coincidence that my 23rd Grand Slam title has come here because it has been the hardest one for me to win in my career. I am very emotional right now and I am very, very proud,” added Djokovic, who fired 11 aces and 52 winners in total past Ruud.
Djokovic is the first man to win all four majors at least three times and is once again halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
I want to thank you first of all for your patience and tolerance and that stands out.
When asked if he could win a 24th and 25th Grand Slam, he replied: “Yes, why not. I feel good this year, I won the two Grand Slams that I played (Melbourne then Roland Garros). So why not?”
“I am very motivated, very inspired to continue to make history in this sport.”
Only Margaret Court and Serena Williams in women’s tennis have managed to rack up 23 Grand Slam titles.
Court’s all-time mark of 24 will now be in Djokovic’s sights at Wimbledon next month.
“I’m going to look to win Wimbledon again. I’ve won the last four Wimbledons, I feel good on the grass,” Djokovic said.
There is little sign of Djokovic slowing down. He is now the oldest French Open champion but 11 of his Slam trophies have now been won after he turned 30.
His coach Goran Ivanisevic hailed his physical fitness, describing him as a “Ninja” on court.
On Monday, Djokovic will reclaim the world No. 1 ranking from Carlos Alcaraz, who he defeated in the semifinals in Paris, and start his 388th week in top spot.
“Many congrats on this amazing achievement. 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!” tweeted Nadal, a 14-time Roland Garros winner who missed this year’s tournament through injury.
Ruud added sportingly: “Novak, another day, another record for you. And another day you rewrite tennis history once again.”
Djokovic was playing in his seventh French Open final and boasted a 4-0 career record over Ruud, not having lost a single set.
However, the fourth-ranked Norwegian was the more composed of the two at the start, sprinting out of the blocks for a 2-0 lead when Djokovic shanked an overhead shot.
It was to be Ruud’s only service break all afternoon.
Ruud, the 2022 runner-up to Nadal, stretched to 3-0 and 4-1 before Djokovic retrieved the break in the seventh game when his opponent buried an easy smash into the net with an open court begging.
It came at the end of a
lung-busting 28-shot rally.
Djokovic missed a breakpoint in the ninth game, tumbling to the red clay as he chased down a Ruud drive.
His frustration boiled over when he angrily accused umpire Damien Dumusois of rushing the players between changeovers on a heavy, humid afternoon in the French capital.
Fired up, he then raced through the tiebreak, sealing the opener with a running forehand.
Tellingly, that was Djokovic’s sixth tiebreak at this French Open and in none of them had he committed a single unforced error in the 55 points contested.
Despite being Djokovic’s junior by 12 years, Ruud, who also lost the 2022 US Open final to Alcaraz, suddenly looked spent.
Djokovic broke for 2-0 in the second set and despite Ruud saving two set points in the eighth game, the Serb moved closer to his dream.
Ruud saved a break point in the third game of the third set before Djokovic was hit with a warning for taking too long between points.
But he wasn’t thrown out of his stride.
Djokovic broke for love at 6-5 and sealed his place in history when Ruud went wide after three hours and 13 minutes on court.
The champion saluted his box where coach Goran Ivanisevic and wife Jelena sat.
“I know I can be a nightmare,” Djokovic said.
“I want to thank you first of all for your patience and tolerance and that stands out. I was really torturing you so I appreciate you being my rock, and my support and really believing in me.”