Novak Djokovic showed his greatness once again by overcoming a sticky start to win a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title with victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud in the French Open final.
Djokovic, 36, was far from his best in the initial stages but his quality in a first-set tie-break laid the platform for a 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 7-5 victory.
The Serb moves into the outright lead of men’s majors ahead of Rafael Nadal.
He also becomes the first man to win all four majors at least three times.
Victory on the Paris clay moves Djokovic alongside Serena Williams in terms of Grand Slam titles, with only Margaret Court standing in front of him with 24 majors.
“I’m beyond fortunate to win 23 Grand Slams in my life, it is incredible,” said Djokovic, who also won the French Open in 2016 and 2021.
“I was a seven-year-old dreaming I could win Wimbledon one day and become number one in the world. I’m beyond grateful and and blessed to be standing here.
“I feel I had the power to create my own destiny. I want to say to every young person if you want a better future, you can create it.”
Minutes after Djokovic won, Nadal paid tribute to his long-time rival.
“Many congratulations on this amazing achievement, 23 is a number that just a few years back was impossible to think about and you made it,” the Spaniard wrote.
Djokovic will have the opportunity to tie Court’s record at Wimbledon next month – a place where he has already won seven times and will be the favourite to equal Roger Federer’s record tally of men’s titles.
Djokovic instantly fell flat on his back in celebration as Ruud pulled a forehand wide on the second championship point.
After a commiserating hug with his opponent, Djokovic ran up to his support box where he celebrated with coach Goran Ivanisevic, wife Jelena, his two children, parents Dijana and Srdjan and NFL superstar Tom Brady.
The victory will also see Djokovic return to the top of the world rankings.
Fourth seed Ruud, who has lost all three of his major finals, congratulated Djokovic on “another day, another record”.
Addressing his opponent, he added: “It is another day where you rewrite tennis history. It is tough to explain how great you are and what an inspiration you are.”
Djokovic delivers on his date with destiny
Having made no secret of his ambition to win more major titles than fellow greats Nadal and Federer, this was Djokovic’s date with destiny.
He pulled level with the pair on 20 triumphs at Wimbledon in 2021, but fell behind Nadal after missing the 2022 Australian Open following a row over his Covid-19 vaccination status that led to him being deported.
Nadal extended the advantage when he won last year’s French Open but Djokovic has surged ahead after winning three of the past four Grand Slams.
Even before 14-time French Open champion Nadal pulled out of this year’s tournament with injury, Djokovic was considered by many as the favourite, even though his own build-up had been hampered by physical problems.
Spanish top seed Carlos Alcaraz was the other main contender, but Djokovic beat him in the semi-finals after the 20-year-old suffered body cramps caused by the tension of facing one of the all-time greats.
It was Djokovic who looked more nervous in the early part of Sunday’s final against 24-year-old Ruud.
Tight and tense, the third seed made a number of unforced errors as Ruud pushed him deep in the court and trailed 4-2 in the first set.
But Djokovic grew in stature as a long opening set wore on.
With a star-studded crowd including French footballer Kylian Mbappe and British actor Hugh Grant watching on, Djokovic used all of his vast experience to dominate the tie-break as Ruud wilted – and from that point on it felt there was only likely to be one outcome.
After Djokovic used his momentum to win a comparatively quick 48-minute second set, the third remained delicately poised until the Serb cranked up the pressure at another crucial juncture.
At 5-5, a blistering backhand winner instantly put Ruud on the back foot, with the Norwegian making an error before two more superb winners from the Serb set him up to serve for the title.
Djokovic raced into a 40-0 lead and, while pulling a forehand wide on the first championship point was slightly anti-climatic, he secured more history at the next time of asking.
‘Nobody looks like stopping him’ – reaction
Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, who Djokovic has replaced as world number one, on Twitter: “Many congrats for the trophy and for the new record!”
American 12-time major singles champion Billie Jean King on Twitter: “Congratulations to Novak on winning the Roland Garros men’s singles title for the third time. He now has a record 23 Grand Slam tournament singles titles.”
Former British number one Greg Rusedski on BBC Radio 5 Live: “He’s just won the first two majors of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on for the calendar Slam this year. Wimbledon is usually the easiest one for him to win.
“His health is still there, his mindset, his drive. It is incredible what this man has achieved.
“There is nothing and nobody out there who looks like they are going to stop him at the moment.”