FRENCH OPEN TENNIS
GOAT: Djokovic makes history as first man to reach 23 Grand Slam singles titles with victory at Roland Garros
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has now won the most Grand Slams of any male player in history and is also on course for the 2023 Grand Slam after winning the first two majors of the year.
Novak Djokovic said winning a record 23rd men’s singles Grand Slam title at the French Open after beating Norway’s Casper Ruud 7-6(1) 6-3 7-5 on Sunday was special given that it was always his toughest one to win.
The Serbian has now won the most Grand Slams of any male player and is the only one to have won each of the four – Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open – at least three times.
But of his 23 Grand Slams, only three have come at the French Open with rival Rafael Nadal, who has 22 majors, dominating on clay with 14 wins in Paris.
Djokovic has also won 10 times in Australia and three times at the US Open while triumphing seven times at Wimbledon.
“It is no coincidence that I won the 23rd Grand Slam here in Paris because this tournament was really in my entire career the toughest to win,” Djokovic, who has played in the Paris final seven times, said to a cheering crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
“A lot of emotions here on this court, also off the court,” he said, after lifting the trophy aloft.
“Thanks one more time for a special atmosphere, a marvellous one. I am very happy to share this special moment of my career with you in this special stadium.”
The 36-year-old won the title without Nadal in the tournament. The Spaniard missed the Grand Slam owing to an injury and surgery that will sideline him for the rest of the year.
Djokovic, who also eclipsed Nadal as the oldest champion in Paris after a tough fortnight, has now won 21 consecutive Grand Slam tournament matches.
He won last year’s Wimbledon, missed the US Open and won in Australia in January before Sunday’s triumph in Paris.
“I am fortunate in my life to win 23 Grand Slams. It is an incredible feeling,” he said.
“Whatever you are pursuing, tennis or anything else; I was a seven-year-old dreaming I would win Wimbledon and become No 1 one day.
“One thing is for sure I felt I had the power to create my own destiny. I felt it with every cell in my body.”
Djokovic can now extend his lead in Grand Slam victories with the season moving over to grass and Wimbledon, where he will bid for an eighth title.
More to come
“He has this software in his head that he can switch when a Grand Slam comes. Grand Slam is a different sport comparing to other tournaments. He switched his software,” said Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, a former Wimbledon champion.
“He’s unbelievable, and he’s still moving like a cat on the court. He’s there. Like Ninja, he’s everywhere.
“It’s fascinating to see, because sometimes you think, OK, now you have 23. But he’s going to find, again, some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25. Who knows where is the end?”
On a historic day on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Djokovic won his 21st consecutive Grand Slam tournament match.
The start of the clay season this year was not easy with the Serb having failed to win any event before his triumph in Paris.
“Coming to this tournament, he didn’t come with unbelievable confidence and form. I was not worried. I said in Monte Carlo, I don’t count these tournaments. Only tournament that counts is this one,” Ivanisevic, who became Djokovic’s coach in 2019, said.
“The day we arrived here, he was better, he was more motivated, he was more hungry. Every day he played better and better … and today he just finished what we started actually in Monte Carlo and now it’s payday. We cash the cheque.”
Djokovic, who dropped just two sets in the entire tournament, also beat top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semifinals after the Spaniard suffered from cramps two sets in and his game collapsed.
Winning Sunday’s final was not easy, neither for the player nor for his coach.
“He chained us with handcuffs for three days,” Ivanisevic said. “He’s not an easy guy, let’s put it this way. Especially when something’s not going his way.
“But we are here to pat our back and to get beaten. That’s what the team is for.
“He was torturing us, taking our nails off. A lot of more things, but I cannot tell you that. But we are still here, we’re alive. My heart is still OK. I’m an old man, I need to be careful of my heart,” Ivanisevic (51) joked.
Betting against Djokovic winning more majors should come with a warning, his coach said.
“Novak knows. Novak waits. Like [former player Andy] Roddick said, I read, he takes the legs, then he takes your soul, then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you’re dead. Bye-bye. Thank you for coming.” Reuters/DM
Djokovic fact box
ATP ranking: 3 (moves to No 1 Monday)
French Open seeding: 3
Grand Slam titles: 23 (Australian Open 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023; French Open 2016, 2021, 2023; Wimbledon 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022; US Open 2011, 2015, 2018)
- Began playing tennis at the age of four.
- His father was a professional skier and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps or play professional soccer, but changed his mind when Djokovic excelled at tennis early on.
Career to date
- In 2006, he won his first ATP tour title at Amersfoort in the Netherlands.
- Made his Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the 2005 Australian Open. Finished as the youngest player (18 years, five months) inside the top 100.
- Reached his first Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2007, losing to Roger Federer.
- Won his maiden Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open – becoming the first Serbian man to win a singles major.
- Led Serbia to their first Davis Cup title in December 2010.
- Began 2011 by winning seven successive tournaments and did not lose until June, when Federer ended his 41-match winning streak in the French Open semifinals.
- Secured the number one ranking in July 2011 by reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, then beat Rafa Nadal to clinch his first Wimbledon crown, his first title on grass.
- Defeated Federer in the 2011 US Open semis then beat Nadal in the final to become the seventh man to win three Grand Slam titles in a year since tennis turned professional in 1968.
- Won his third Australian Open title in 2012 by defeating Nadal in five hours and 53 minutes and began 2013 by beating Andy Murray to become the first man in the professional era to win three successive Australian Open titles.
- Beat Federer in a five-set Wimbledon final in 2014.
- Reached all four Grand Slam finals in 2015. Began the year by capturing a fifth Australian Open title.
- Won third Wimbledon title by defeating Federer in the final. Beat Federer in US Open final, earning three Grand Slam titles in a year for a second time.
- Beat Murray in the 2016 Australian Open final to win his 11th Grand Slam title.
- Beat Murray again in the French Open final that year to win the clay court major on his 12th attempt. The win not only completed his Grand Slam collection, but he also became only the third man – after Don Budge and Rod Laver – to hold all four majors at the same time.
- Retired in the 2017 Wimbledon quarterfinals and ended his season in July with a right elbow injury. Returned from a six-month injury absence at the 2018 Australian Open. Had elbow surgery following a last-16 exit.
- Beat Kevin Anderson in the 2018 Wimbledon final to seal his 13th Grand Slam. Capped off the year by winning the US Open crown for the third time.
- Defeated Nadal to claim his 15th major and seventh Australian Open title in 2019.
- His 26-match winning streak in Grand Slams ended with a loss to Dominic Thiem in the French Open semis.
- Came from two match points down to defeat Federer in the final and claim his fifth Wimbledon title. It was the first time a Wimbledon singles title was decided in a final set tiebreak, which was introduced at 12-12.
- Failed to successfully defend his title at the US Open after retiring because of injury in the fourth round.
- Helped Serbia win the inaugural ATP Cup in 2020 before triumphing at Melbourne Park for the eighth time.
- With 2019 champion Nadal and Federer opting to skip the 2020 US Open, Djokovic was favourite to triumph but was defaulted in the fourth round after accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball. The disqualification ended his 26-0 winning run in 2020.
- Lost to Nadal in straight sets in the final of the rescheduled 2020 French Open.
- Beat Daniil Medvedev for a record-extending ninth Australian Open title in 2021.
- Beat Stefanos Tsitsipas for his second French Open title and 19th Grand Slam crown, thus becoming the first man since tennis turned professional in 1968 to win all four majors at least twice.
- Beat Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon final to win a 20th singles Grand Slam title.
- His bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2021 fell short after he lost to Medvedev in the US Open final.
- Missed the Australian Open in 2022 after being deported from the country for not being vaccinated against Covid-19.
- Beat Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon final to win his 21st Grand Slam title and fourth straight crown at the All England Club.
- Missed the US Open in 2022 because he was unvaccinated against Covid-19.
- Beat Tsitsipas in the 2023 Australian Open final for his 10th title in Melbourne, reclaiming the number one ranking and drawing level with Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
- Was injured during the build-up to the French Open but peaked in Paris to win a record 23rd men’s Grand Slam and return to the top of the world rankings. Reuters/DM