Great players leave records around them, depositing them like waves on a coastline, leaving a high-level mark for others to arrive or disappear.
First it was Roger Federer, then Rafael Nadal, now it’s Novak Djokovic who, with a 7-6 victory (7-1) 6-3 7-5 in the French Open final against Casper Ruud, set a new men’s record for the greatest slam titles with his 23.Victory.
The 36-year-old is the first man to win at least three titles in each of the top four. He and Serena Williams now share equality for most Grand Slam titles, behind Australian record holder Margaret Court, who won 24 major women’s singles titles.
Ruud started strong, winning the first three games before Djokovic won his first. The initial losses were not new to the Serbian star. It’s not the rope-to-dope, exactly, but he lost the first set of big fights before and almost always tormented even the score and crushed his opponent. Sunday he returned in the first set, connecting Ruud 4-4 before forcing a tiebreak.
Then Djokovic Prime has been activated. He easily won the fracture and had a chance to rest before the start of the second set. The wind accelerated when Djokovic broke Ruud in his first serve game, setting a 3-0 position at the beginning of the second set. In two hours, 13 minutes, Djokovic had the advantage of two sets.
Ruud took the lead in the third set, giving a battle to his chosen opponent until Djokovic gained the upper hand with a central break in Game 11. Since then, he has been the guard of history, and the champion has stood on the clay once he has officially marked victory.
This is Ruud’s second consecutive year in the French Open final, and he was looking for his first win in the Roland-Garros championship. Last year he lost to Rafael Nadal, and Sunday he lost to Novak, another of the greatest players of all time.
“What an inspiration you are to millions of people around the world,” Ruud told a smiling Djokovic after the game. “I’m happy to be the first person to congratulate you from here. From the point of view of the show.”
Ruud concluded his remarks by thanking the French crowd, who told him that he would return next year. He is part of a group of talented young players who are eager to take control of sport. Their time will come, but Djokovic is not ready to give up his place. Nor should it be. He always wanted to be not only the best in sports, but also the greatest tennis player of all time.
Tom Brady is in Djokovic’s box today and what he did in football is what Djokovic wanted to do in tennis. Nearly 10 years younger than seven Super Bowl championships, Djokovic did it. While Roger Federer and Nadal have collapsed from injuries, Djokovic is strong, missing the time in the past few years just because his personal choice has yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Brady is not the only star to see Djokovic expand his legacy Sunday. Soccer players Kylian Mbappé and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who have just retired are among the crowd. Heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson also attended.
While Djokovic currently holds the men’s record for Grand Slam, Nadal has won the French Open 14 times. He missed this year’s tournament after suffering an injury from the Australian Open requiring surgery. Although Djokovic made it clear that he saw Nadal’s absence as an opportunity to win, joking that he did not miss him, the great Spanish tennis player sent congratulations to Djokovic via Twitter.
It’s very satisfying when young players fight and win over previous generations. It signals a change of guard and a forward current of time. But Djokovic wasn’t on board.
“I really wish you all the best. I hope you win against anyone but me,” he told Ruud before receiving La Coupe des Mousquetaires. “If I lose the Grand Slam, you can win it, no problem.”
It’s clear Djokovic will continue to write his own story. Soon after being crowned champion, he expressed excitement for the next Grand Slam. He didn’t talk too much about Wimbledon coming in early July, but he’s not going anywhere until he’s ready. Right now, she looks pretty comfortable at the top of the tennis world.