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PARIS, June 11, (AP): Novak Djokovic made clear for years that this was his goal. What drove him. What inspired him. The biggest titles from his sport’s biggest stages were Djokovic’s main aim and now he finally stands alone – ahead of Rafael Nadal, ahead of Roger Federer, ahead of every man who ever has swung a racket. If Djokovic could wait this long to hold this record, he certainly could wait for the half-hour or so it took to straighten out his strokes in the French Open final. And so, after a bit of a shaky start in thick, humid air and under foreboding charcoal clouds Sunday, he imposed himself. The opponent at Court Philippe Chatrier, Casper Ruud, never really stood a serious chance after that.
Djokovic earned his men’s-record 23rd Grand Slam singles championship, breaking a tie with Nadal and moving three in front of the retired Federer, with a 7-6 (1), 6-3, 7-5 victory over Ruud that really was not in doubt for most of its 3 hours, 13 minutes. Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, puts this one alongside the French Open titles he earned in 2016 and 2021, making him the only man with at least three from each major event. He has won 10 trophies at the Australian Open, seven at Wimbledon and three at the U.S. Open. Also worth noting: Djokovic is again halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam – winning all four majors in one season – something no man has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic came close to pulling off that feat in 2021, when he won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon and made it all the way to the title match at the U.S. Open before losing to Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic will resume that pursuit at Wimbledon, which begins on the grass of the All England Club on July 3.
He has now clutched the trophy at 11 of the last 20 Slams, a remarkable run made even more so when considering that he did not participate in two majors during that span because he did not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Djokovic was deported from Australia in January 2021 before the Australian Open, and he was not allowed to fly to the United States ahead of last year’s U.S. Open under a rule that since has been lifted. Getting to 23 not only sets the mark for men, but it also lets Djokovic equal Serena Williams, who wrapped up her career last year, for the most by anyone in the Open era, which began in 1968. Margaret Court won some of her alltime record of 24 Slam trophies in the amateur era. At 20 days past his 36th birthday, Djokovic is the oldest singles champion at Roland Garros, considered the most grueling of the majors because of the lengthy, grinding points required by the red clay, which is slower than the grass or hard courts underfoot elsewhere.
Nadal’s 22nd major arrived in Paris a year ago, two days after he turned 36. He has been sidelined since January by a hip injury and had arthroscopic surgery on June 2. As if all of that weren’t enough, Djokovic’s triumph on Sunday also means he will return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings on Monday, replacing Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic already has spent more weeks at the top spot than any player – man or woman – since the inception of computerized tennis rankings a half-century ago. It was Djokovic who eliminated Alcaraz in the semifinals on Thursday, wearing him down over two thrilling sets until the 20-year-old Spaniard’s body cramped up badly. Alcaraz continued to play, but the scores of the last two sets of the four-set match told the story: 6-1, 6-1.
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