Sunday’s Roland Garros men’s final is an opportunity for Novak Djokovic to create history by becoming the first man to win 23 grand slam singles titles. He has shown imperious form, gliding through the draw and not facing too stiff a challenge so far, despite running into world number one Carlos Alcaraz. This will be a significant title for Djokovic, who along with earning the record and moving clear of Rafael Nadal, will earn another shot at winning the calendar year grand slam.
However, in his way stands Norwegian world number four Casper Ruud, who has turned into a consistent and dangerous performer at the highest level of tennis in the last few months. Ruud boasts of a strong serve and incredibly consistent ground game, along with a forehand to rival the best on tour. He beat the dangerous Alexander Zverev in the semifinals with great comfort, and enters the third slam final of his career. Although he is yet to win a title, he also reached the final of the World Tour Finals, which suggests he is capable of beating the world’s best players on the biggest stage. Clay is also Ruud’s favourite surface, as it suits his style of playing deep behind the baseline and heavy topspin game. He grew up playing on clay courts, including at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Mallorca. Nadal handily beat his protégé in the Roland Garros finals last year — but the experience means Ruud is an improved player, and will not be as daunted by the stage as he was last year.
Djokovic commented on Ruud’s game while speaking to Serbian media after his semifinal victory over Alcaraz. “Casper is a clay court specialist, last year’s finalist here, that says enough about his level,” said Djokovic. “I think that he learned a lot of lessons playing Rafa in the finals last year, so I expect him this time to be more solid and to believe more that he can win.”
Aware of the history that is at stake, the defending Australian Open and Wimbledon champion proved that he knows his position as the favourite heading into the final, but also that it is a role he cherishes and is prepared for.
“I am a big believer, I believe in divine intervention, but at the same time I believe that I am pulling the strings – it depends on me what my life will look like and the outcome of my matches. Of course, the opponent has a lot to say as well, but I believe that you need to finish
50 per cent of your work before even stepping out on the court.” Djokovic beat Ruud at the World Tour Finals in Turin last December, equalling Roger Federer’s record at that tournament and extending his own record of year-end number one titles.
“My preparation is very thorough and professional – even if I lose, I have no regrets, because I know I’ve done everything in my power to be the best,” concluded Djokovic.
Both players will take to Court Phillipe Chartrier, with Ruud seeking his first major title and Djokovic his 23rd. It promises to be a battle of attrition throughout, with plenty of power-play and speed on show to enthrall the spectators.
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