Roland Garros Week 2 Summary

Report by Telegraph Sport and Simon Briggs at Roland Garros.

After the Big Four, there were the Big Three, and then the Big Two. But now that Novak Djokovic has defeated Casper Ruud in the French Open final, he stands alone as the undisputed emperor of tennis.

This victory carried Djokovic into unprecedented territory as the first man to win 23 major titles, as well as the first to claim at least three trophies at each slam. His statistical domination of the sport feels increasingly Bradmanesque.

How high will Djokovic push his tally?

Right now, he feels like the odds-on favourite to complete the calendar slam this year by notching up an eighth Wimbledon and a fourth US Open. If he gets there, he will be the first to do it since Rod Laver in 1969.

But whatever feats await this supreme champion, we will remember June 11, 2023 as the end of a decade-long argument between tennis’s greatest generation.

Roger Federer (41) is already retired. Rafael Nadal (37) is off the tour indefinitely, with little prospect of regaining his former glories.  Djokovic is 36, but somehow he continues to dominate younger rivals with his physicality, as well as his almost laughably superior skill-set. 

His list of majors now stands equal with that of Serena Williams. Margaret Court  –  who won 24  –  is the only target left. Djokovic had to work hellishly hard in the early stages of this 7-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over the dogged Ruud.

The first set was a cagey slugfest that lasted fully 82 minutes. Ruud made a fast start, snatching a 3-0 lead while Djokovic  –  his nerves jangling at the prospect of surpassing Nadal’s 22 majors  –  took a while to settle.

Ruud was concentrating on getting the ball up high, out of his opponents strike zone, and making it physical. The turning point came, almost inevitably, in a tie-break. This has been true for a couple of seasons now  –  the arrival of the 13th game triggers a transformation in Djokovic, almost like the moon coming out in Teen Wolf.

Here, he suddenly grew fangs, switching from the solid yet conservative player who had been trading topspin with Ruud to something far more deadly.

Djokovic has now played six tie-breaks over the fortnight, claiming 42 points and losing only 13. He has not made a single unforced error along the way. Ruud actually played an excellent tie-break himself, putting himself in position to win all the early points.

But on each occasion, Djokovic read his intentions and found an answer. It was uncanny. On another hot and humid day in Paris, Ruud kept encouraging chair umpire Damien Dumusois to be sharper on the time-keeping, while Djokovic complained that he was being rushed.

He did look a little heavy-legged at times, but no regular tennis-watcher would have been concerned. There have been enough matches over the years where he looked out on his feet, only to surge back irresistibly as if he had been plugged into the mains.

The average rally length in that first set was a massive 6.3 shots per point, as Ruud managed to keep his man pushed back from the baseline. Had he won that set, the Norwegian might have been in business.

But once Djokovic had snatched it, he began to relax and express his full repertoire, especially with the full-throttle forehand that has gone from erratic to imperious over the course of his 20-year career.

Although the quality of tennis remained high on both sides, there was a sense of slight deflation around Court Phillipe Chatrier at the conclusion of the tie-break.

It was clear how much Ruud had invested in the first set. Against a player of Djokovic’s stature, the outcome now felt like a formality. And indeed, as Djokovic loosened up, the average rally length dropped quickly.

It stood at 4.92 shots in the second set and a mere 4.39 in the third  –  which saw him firing laser-like forehand winners apparently at will.

After three hours and 13 minutes, Djokovic forced Ruud into one last forehand error, then lay down on his back like a starfish in the clay. He then donned a jacket embroidered with a giant ”23” before climbing into his player box to embrace friends and family, plus the former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

On returning to his chair, he sobbed into his towel, as he had after his previous major title in Australia. Meanwhile, Nadal tweeted his congratulations.

”Many congrats on this amazing achievement, ” said Nadal. ”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!”

As Ruud addressed the crowd at the post-match presentation ceremony, he added his own tribute. ”Another day, another record for you, Novak. It is tough to explain how good you are and what an inspiration you are to so many. Congratulations to you and your team, I am sure this one is the sweetest.”

Djokovic now sang his way through the Serbian anthem before accepting a special trophy  –  as well as the Coupe des Mousquetaires  –  to commemorate his new record.

He spoke in both French and English, calling the French Open the toughest  tournament for him in his career, and exhorting young people to forge their own destiny in the same way that he has done, since he first dreamed of winning Wimbledon at the age of seven.

Nadal and Federer  –  the two men Djokovic had pursued throughout his career  –  were finally in the rear-view mirror. As the master of the sport, he can lookout now at the open road ahead of him, and consider how far he wants to travel.

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