Novak Djokovic can complete his ascent to the top of tennis history by claiming a 23rd grand slam title at the French Open on Sunday.
Since inserting himself into the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal duopoly, Djokovic has been playing catch-up, but victory over Casper Ruud would see him out on his own as the most successful men’s singles player ever.
And, with Federer retired and Nadal heading in the same direction, it would appear a decisive move.
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Djokovic would also become the first man in history to win at least three titles at each slam and would be within one of Margaret Court’s all-time record.
The Serbian arrived in Paris after a less-than-stellar clay-court season but has made no secret of the fact it is the slams that keep him out there and he has once again risen to the occasion when it matters.
After outlasting a cramping Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals to win a 20th consecutive grand slam match, Djokovic said: “I have said it many times this year during the clay season that Roland Garros is where I want to peak on clay, where I want to play my best tennis.
“So I put myself in another really ideal position to win a grand slam. That’s basically what still drives me when I wake up in the morning and think about the season and think about things I want to achieve.
“I won the first grand slam this year and now I’m in the finals of a second one, so I couldn’t ask for more than that.
“As far as all the records that are on the line, it’s flattering, it’s great, but I need to win in order to make sure to be on that list. So I know what I need to do.
“I’ve been very fortunate that most of the matches in tournaments I’ve played in the last few years, there is history on the line. I like the feeling. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to make history of the sport that I truly love and that has given me so much.
“The motivation is very high, as you can imagine. There is one more to go, and hopefully I’ll get my hands on the trophy.”
Djokovic and Ruud have played four times before, with the Norwegian yet to win a set, and there is no doubt he is a huge underdog.
The fourth seed has played himself nicely into form on the Parisian clay, though, to make it back-to-back finals and will be the fresher having defeated Alexander Zverev for the loss of only seven games on Friday.
Zverev believes Ruud can take confidence from Djokovic’s only previous attempt to surpass his great rivals at the US Open in 2021, when nerves got the better of him and he was beaten by Daniil Medvedev.
“Novak is one of the best players in the world, that’s for sure, but, when you’re on the brink of history, I think that adds a little bit of pressure,” said Zverev.
“You remember the US Open final he had with Medvedev after beating me in the semis. The pressure – we are all human. Novak is human. We all feel it. So I think, for Casper, that’s the best scenario, to be honest.”
Ruud is playing in his third slam final in a year having reached the title decider here 12 months ago and at the US Open.
He was given a lesson by idol Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros before losing out in four sets to Alcaraz in New York and hopes he can write a different ending this time.
“It’s going to be tough, for sure,” said the 24-year-old. “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 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 ones that I played.
“It just feels great to be back. I didn’t think or necessarily believe in the beginning of the tournament that I was going to be in the final.”