Since his emergence at the top level of professional tennis 18 years ago, Novak Djokovic has used the dizzying bar set by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal before him as inspiration to push himself to his limits, never doubting that he would one day rise above it.
What once seemed impossible eventually became inevitable. On Sunday, Djokovic finally surpassed his great rivals in the most significant category of all as he defeated Casper Ruud 7-6 (1), 6-3, 7-5 to clinch his 23rd grand slam title, breaking his tie of 22 with Nadal.
This historic victory means that Djokovic is now the men’s sole grand slam record holder, alongside countless other records. After years of being blocked by Nadal, the greatest claycourter of all time, at the French Open, Djokovic also now has three titles in Paris and he is the first man to win each grand slam tournament three times. He will also return to No 1 for a record-extending 388th week as the best player in the world.
While he still covers the court with more flexibility and ease than most athletes at their physical peak, these achievements at his age have only added another layer to his greatness. Djokovic is now the oldest Roland Garros singles champion in history at 36 years and 20 days. He has also won the last three grand slam tournaments he has contested – he did not travel to the US Open last year due to the United States banning unvaccinated visitors – compiling a 21‑match grand slam winning run.
Few people gave Ruud, the fourth seed, much of a realistic chance against the third seed Djokovic, but after contesting the French and US Open finals last season against Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, Ruud knew what level it would take for him to match Djokovic in a grand slam final.
Still, the Norwegian kept his head up. The decisive moment of the match came while he led 5-4 with Djokovic serving. Ruud opened the game with some inspirational play, including a successful tweener lob to lead 0-30. But at 5-4, 30-30, Ruud gifted a forehand error on an easy second serve return. Sensing Ruud’s tension, Djokovic pounced. He held serve, he forced a tiebreak and then he picked Ruud’s weaker backhand apart to take the set. “He just steps up,” Ruud said. “Either he plays ridiculous defence or he plays beautiful winners. Just doesn’t do any mistakes. He either lets you go for too much or he plays a beautiful winner.”