Over the years, the three dominant players in men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic – have amassed numerous grand slam titles, each making a strong case to be considered the greatest male player of all time.
Now, with Federer retired and Nadal injured, Djokovic has an opportunity to stake his own claim in that unending debate and win a record 23rd grand slam title on Sunday at the French Open, surpassing the mark he currently holds with Nadal.
Casper Ruud, who has made it to three of the last five grand slam finals, including the 2020 Roland Garros final, where he was defeated by Nadal 6-3 6-3 6-0, stands in Djokovic’s path.
If Djokovic is victorious on Sunday, he will reclaim the top spot in the world rankings and become the first male athlete to achieve at least three victories in all four major tournaments. Despite the weight of expectations, the Serb stated that he is accustomed to such pressure following his semifinal win.
“I am constantly aware of the weight of history, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the history of this sport,” he stated, as reported by the ATP Tour. “My focus is solely on winning the upcoming match.”
I am constantly under pressure, and that won’t change. However, it is a necessary aspect of my sport and my life. I view pressure as a privilege, and it also serves as a strong motivator for me to perform well and reach my goals on Sundays.
Djokovic has had a smooth journey to reach the finals, having only lost two sets – one to Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals and one to top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals.
The highly anticipated match between Alcaraz and Djokovic was expected to be a thrilling one. However, Djokovic easily secured the win when Alcaraz experienced cramping in the third set, with the game tied at one set each.
During the past three years, the Serbian player has been dominant in major tournaments, with the exception of a defeat to Nadal at the French Open last year. This loss is the only one he has experienced while participating in major tournaments.
Facing an opponent who is aiming to either break or extend their record for the most grand slam titles for the second year in a row is a common scenario for Ruud, who has experience competing against dominant players.
“Last year it was against Rafa, this year it’s against Novak, so what can you say? It’s two of the toughest players in history,” Ruud said after his semifinal victory, according to the Guardian. “I’ve got to be the underdog like today, playing without too many feelings, just try to enjoy.”
The 24-year-old from Norway has yet to win a set against Djokovic in their four matches. As a result, he will enter the court as the clear underdog. However, he can now rely on his previous experience in two grand slam finals.
According to the ATP Tour, Ruud stated that it will be a difficult match. He acknowledged that his opponent is vying for his 23rd victory, while he is aiming for his first. Ruud plans to approach the match without pressure and savor the moment.
My mindset was similar last year when I played against Nadal, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in my favor. I hope to improve upon last year’s performance. I will see if I have gained any lessons from the two major finals I competed in last year. It’s a wonderful feeling to be back.
Despite beginning the tournament with a variable performance this season, Ruud has regained his skills and achieved a victory against a top-10 player at a major championship for the first time. This occurred when he defeated Holger Rune in the quarterfinals and impressively beat Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.
The semifinal showing will motivate Ruud for the final, as he aims to defy expectations and win his first major championship.