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Novak Djokovic Wins 3rd French Open, Sets Record with 23 Grand Slam Titles

Novak Djokovic at the French Open

Many assumed that the semifinal against Carlos Alcaraz would be the toughest challenge for Novak Djokovic at the French Open. However, Casper Ruud still had something to say about it in the final. Ruud is no pushover, and he came ready to deny Novak Djokovic history as the first man to win 23 Major titles, as well as the first to win every Major three times.

In the thrilling semifinal against Alcaraz, the young Spaniard kept brutal pace with Djokovic for two sets, actually winning the second. However, pushing that hard–doing what it takes to win a set off Djokovic–was too much for Alcaraz’s body, and he melted with cramps in the final two sets.

Could Casper Ruud do better? Was the Norwegian, in his third Grand Slam final of the last five Majors, ready to b the one to dethrone Djokovic at this stage? Early in the match it looked like he could be, but the Serbian eventually took control.

Novak Djokovic def. Casper Ruud 76(1) 63 75

First Set

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Ruud came out firing and Djokovic looked flat, spraying unforced errors everywhere in his opening games. He didn’t do a great job of adjusting to Ruud’s depth and court coverage, and the Serb came out facing break points early. Djokovic gave away the first break of the match with a mishit overhead that sailed long. Perhaps surprisingly, the overhead has been Djokovic’s weakness through his entire career. It has always been error-prone, especially in crucial moments. Djokovic still couldn’t find the court, and quickly fell behind 0-3.

However, the Serb then settled into his next service game, and an easy hold seemed to help him find his rhythm in the match. He appeared to be physically struggling at times, taking as much time between points as possible, but during the points he was working the rallies much better and putting Ruud in more awkward positions. Djokovic eventually got the break back when Ruud missed an overhead after a grueling rally. Games were intense and tight the rest of the way, and both players had to fend off break points. Eventually, though, we were on to a tiebreak.

The tiebreak itself was comparatively boring, given that Djokovic was just way too good. His defense was impenetrable, and he never let Ruud find any footing. In fact, Djokovic has been completely unreal in tiebreaks this French Open. He has won 42 of 55 points in tiebreaks this event, and did not hit a single unforced error in those 55 points. Unbelievable.

Novak Djokovic Cruises

After that, Ruud seemed to fade. Maybe saying that is unfair to Ruud, as Djokovic picked his serve up to a greater level, and the baseline game followed. The Norwegian was still playing well enough to beat possibly everyone else in the world, but Djokovic is just on another level. There’s a reason it usually takes a Rafael Nadal-esque showing to beat Djokovic at Roland Garros. And whatever was bothering Djokovic physically in the first set seemed to have gone away. Djokovic earned a break in Ruud’s first service game of the second set, and the Serbian never let his own serve come under fire. Three relatively painless holds later, and Djokovic had the second set 6-3.

The third set proceeded somewhat quietly. Djokovic’s serve still appeared untouchable, but Ruud did a better job of protecting his own early in the set. Ruud did a great job of holding more easily as the set went on, but Djokovic turned things up at 5-5 and the Norwegian never had a chance. The all-time great broke to love, then easily served it out for a 76(1) 63 75 victory.

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What’s Next?

Honestly, the accolades Djokovic earns with this win are almost too numerous to mention. His 23rd Grand Slam sets the men’s record, and likely slams the door on anyone catching him in the foreseeable future. Roger Federer retired with just 20, and while Rafael Nadal has 22 and could contest for a 23rd next year (which he said will probably be his last), Djokovic will be a prohibitive favorite at Wimbledon this year and/or the Australian Open next year to permanently put that number out of reach.

In fact, with 23 Majors, Djokovic ties Serena Williams with the second-most titles ever, by a man or woman. Of course, Serena got #23 and looked unstoppable to take Margaret Court’s record of 24, but it never materialized. Djokovic has now picked up that chase, and it looks like he’s going to get it. Nothing is guaranteed–as Serena showed–but Djokovic is now in the chase for the greatest Grand Slam player of all time, of any gender.

Novak Djokovic is now also the first man to win each Major three times. Nadal is the only man to win each Major twice, though he only has two titles at both the Australian Open and US Open. Federer only won the French Open once. Among the women, both Serena Williams and Margaret Court won each Major three times. Steffi Graf won each Grand Slam a stunning four times. Djokovic needs one more US Open and French Open title to match that, so maybe next year in Paris that’s what we’ll see him chasing.

Djokovic also returns to World #1 with this win. He would have held it already, but Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points last year because of its decision to ban Russian and Belorussian players.

For Casper Ruud, the loss has to hurt. But he should be heartened. He can beat every single player in the world, other than the best ever. As long as he keeps this level up, his time will come. Djokovic, at 36 years old (he just passed Nadal as the oldest ever men’s French Open winner), can’t keep this up forever. There are several players waiting to take the mantle when Djokovic retires or even declines. Andwhile Carlos Alcaraz might be at the front of that list, Casper Ruud isn’t far behind.

Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

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