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Can Ruud Deny Djokovic Historic 23rd Major At Roland Garros?

Pair meets Sunday in championship match in Paris
June 10, 2023
Novak Djokovic leads Casper Ruud 4-0 in the pair's ATP Head2Head series.
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Novak Djokovic leads Casper Ruud 4-0 in the pair's ATP Head2Head series. By Andy West

Casper Ruud, on Court Philippe-Chatrier, trying to stop his opponent making history.

That will be the tale of the Roland Garros championship match for the second consecutive year as the Norwegian takes on Novak Djokovic on Sunday in Paris. With victory, Djokovic will secure a record 23rd major title and become the first man to win each Grand Slam tournament at least three times.

In 2022, Ruud took on Rafael Nadal in his maiden major final in the French capital, where the Spaniard charged to a then-record-extending 22nd major trophy. Having now reached three finals in the space of five major events, the Norwegian possesses considerably more big-stage experience this time around as he bids to deny Djokovic a groundbreaking triumph of his own in Sunday's championship match (from 2:30pm CEST/8:30am EDT).

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Despite playing with so much at stake, the 36-year-old Djokovic believes treating Sunday's clash as just another match will be key for him to win his sixth title in his past eight major campaigns and simultaneously secure his return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“I hope that I'll play my best tennis level on Sunday,” said Djokovic on Friday after his four-set semi-final triumph against World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. “The only thing I can say now is that I'm very focused. History is always something that's hovering over me, but I'm very happy to be in this position to write history of this sport, but I'm just thinking about winning the next match.”

Most Grand Slam Men's Singles Titles (All-Time)

Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal
Roger Federer
Pete Sampras
Roy Emerson
Bjorn Borg
Rod Laver

Ruud is under no illusions about the task that lies ahead as he bids to become the first Norwegian to win a major title. The 24-year-old, who also reached the championship match at the US Open last September, has not won a set in his four previous ATP Head2Head clashes with Djokovic.

“It's going to be tough, for sure,” said Ruud, who defeated Alexander Zverev in straight sets with a dominant semi-final display on Friday night in Paris. “He's playing for his 23rd. I'm playing for my first. So I'm going to just try to play without pressure and just try to enjoy the moment.

“I think that was my mentality last year [against Nadal] as well, and it didn't go my way. Obviously, I would like to try to do better than last year. Let's see if I have learned something from the two previous [major finals] that I played last year. It just feels great to be back.”

Both players have made their way through the draw with relative ease this fortnight in Paris. Djokovic dropped just two sets across his six matches to become the second-oldest finalist in Roland Garros history (since 1925). He was in imperious form in the first set against World No. 1 Alcaraz on Friday and was ruthless in securing victory after the Spaniard began to cramp early in the third set.

Although renowned for his miraculous defensive abilities, it was the Serbian’s ferocious ballstriking that underpinned his early burst against Alcaraz. Djokovic will use his power and accuracy from the baseline to test Ruud in a similar fashion on Sunday and he possesses the ability to change things up with his drop shot should he need to.

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The Serbian will also try to minimise the damage from Ruud’s ferocious forehand, which has spearheaded the 24-year-old’s charge in the French capital. The Norwegian has dropped just three sets in Paris himself and dismantled Zverev with a stunning display of consistent heavy hitting on Friday. He will know he needs to produce a similar level against Djokovic if he is going to defeat the seven-time year-end No. 1 for the first time.

Ruud has been one of the ATP Tour’s dominant forces on clay for the past three years. Even during a 2023 season in which he has struggled to consistently produce his best level, the Norwegian still claimed his 10th ATP Tour title in Estoril and reached an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final in Rome thanks to his proficiency on the surface.

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Casper Ruud
Stefanos Tsitsipas
Carlos Alcaraz
Novak Djokovic

Beating Djokovic over five sets is a different prospect altogether, however. The Serbian is chasing his 21st consecutive match win at major tournaments and will not panic if Ruud makes a fast start on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“I'm just going to try to play without too much emotion,” said Ruud. “I think that's when I can play my best tennis, when I don't overthink the situation and think too much that I have to win this match, because then things go on automatic mode.”

Playing the opponent and not the occasion will also be the foundation of Djokovic’s approach as he seeks to embellish his legacy as one of the greatest players in history.

“Experience [is] on my side,” said the Serbian on Friday. “But does it win matches? I don't think so. I just have to recover well, be prepared for another long battle, and after the finals, if I win, let's talk about history.”

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