Novak Djokovic reached the top of the tennis mountain on Sunday, dominating Casper Ruud in straight sets to win the French Open men’s singles title for a third time and so much more.
With the most momentous championship of his career so far, Djokovic has staked his claim to being the greatest male tennis player in history, with a record 23 grand slam tournament singles titles.
Djokovic defeated Ruud 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 7-5. On his second match point, Djokovic induced Ruud into a final forehand off the court and collapsed on his back. He then knelt in prayer in the middle of the court and headed for the stands to embrace his family and coaches.
Djokovic has spent most of the last two decades chasing his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. That race has come to an end, at least for now. Djokovic, 36, surpassed the retired Federer last summer, at Wimbledon’s Centre Court on the grass that Federer had ruled for so long, when he won his 21st grand slam title. At the Australian Open, Djokovic won again. That 22nd title tied Nadal.
On Sunday, with a horde of fans waving Serbian flags and chanting his name and a cast of stars on hand for the occasion, he won again, this time for the record books.
The French soccer star Kylian Mbappé and the Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic sat a few rows above the court, near his wife Jelena.
Djokovic did it on the red clay of the Philippe Chatrier court at the French Open, which Nadal has won an astonishing 14 times.
Djokovic’s journey has been anything but smooth. It has been filled with one self-inflicted crisis after another, epic battles with Nadal and Federer on the court, early and midcareer fallow seasons, some because he was injured, and some when he was forced to miss tournaments because he would not waiver from his principles.
Beyond that, there was the simple matter of math. At the end of 2010, when Djokovic was 23 and nearly five years past competing in his first major tournament, Federer had already won 16 grand slam titles to Djokovic’s one. Any suggestion that Djokovic might one day catch Federer, or even Nadal, who had nine, would have been absurd.
But then 2011 dawned, Djokovic stormed the sport, winning the Australian and US Opens and Wimbledon that year. He put together a 41-match winning streak and a 10-1 record against Federer and Nadal. Tennis has never been the same.
The boulder-sized chip on his shoulder that Djokovic has said he has carried since his childhood growing up during the war in Serbia hasn’t hurt either. Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s current coach, who is a Croat, has described a Balkan fighting spirit in Djokovic’s DNA that no one who has come from outside the region can match.
The numbers since then defy simple explanation. With his win Sunday, Djokovic regained the world’s top ranking for a record 388th week. In addition to the record for grand slam tournament titles, he also holds the record for Masters 1000 titles, and just in case any Nadal or Federer fans wanted to fault him for being a mere compiler, Djokovic has a winning record against both Nadal and Federer.
Any hope that Ruud, a steady and determined Norwegian playing in his third Grand Slam final in 13 months, had of turning Sunday into something other than a coronation dissipated at the end of a grinding first-set battle that concluded in Djokovic’s signature fashion.
Unseeded Hsieh Su-Wei and Wang Xinyu won the women’s doubles after beating 10th-seeded Leylah Fernandez and Taylor Townsend 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.
China’s Wang Xinyu (left) and Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan after winning the women’s doubles in Paris on Sunday. AP /PTI