Novak Djokovic admits he has “history hanging over him” when he takes on Casper Rudd in the French Open final for a record 23rd men’s Grand Slam title on Sunday (from 22:30 AEST).
The 36-year-old Serb can set many milestones in his seventh Roland Garros title.
In addition to breaking the 22-slam tie shared by Rafael Nadal, he can become the tournament’s oldest champion and the only man to win all four majors at least three times.
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In the women’s game, only Margaret Court, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams can claim such pride.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m very focused. “History is something that always sticks with me,” said Djokovic, winner in Paris in 2016 and 2021 and now the oldest finalist at 93.
Djokovic, playing in his 34th Grand Slam final, could replace Carlos Alcaraz, who defeated Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals, and return to the world No. 1 ranking with a win over Rudd.
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Sunday’s victory will once again take him to the halfway point for a Grand Slam on the historic calendar, having won four majors in a single year, a feat accomplished by only two men.
Rod Laver did it twice, most recently in 1969.
However, Djokovic refuses to dwell on such dominance when he loses to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 US Open final, wary of how the pressure destroyed his latest bid to bag all four Slams.
“I don’t think about the calendar. I am thinking of winning another Grand Slam title on Sunday and I am very close. I know him. I know the feeling,” said Djokovic.
“Experience is on my side, but will he win matches? I don’t think so. I have to prepare for another long battle, and if I win after the final, let’s talk about history.”
Ruud was runner-up to Rafael Nadal in the 2022 final, having previously lost to Alcaraz at the US Open.
The 24-year-old Norwegian has never beaten Djokovic in four meetings and is yet to win once.
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If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the presence of Djokovic on the other side of the net adds another challenge.
Alcaraz admitted that the tension of meeting the Serb for the first time at a Grand Slam caused him to cramp as he despaired in the semi-finals.
“Novak is a legend of our sport,” said Alcaraz. “If someone says that he went out without playing against Novak, he is lying.
“Obviously, playing in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, you have a lot of nerves, but even more so against Novak. That’s true”.
Djokovic pumped his fists as the victory came to an end as he beat Alcaraz, who had been ailing for 10 of his last 11 games, in Friday’s semifinals.
However, he became so used to the pantomime of the sport that he became an inspiration.
“I don’t mind. This is not the first; maybe not the last. I will only win,” he warned.
Despite Rudd’s dismal performance against Djokovic, he can show his prowess on clay.
Since 2020, he has 87 wins, 12 most finals and nine titles.
On Sunday, the world number four will look to make sure all the pressure falls on Djokovic’s shoulders.
It’s just not thinking, “I think I should win this match.” It’s a word I try to avoid,” he said.
Alexander Zverev, who lost to Ruud in the semifinals in straight sets, believes Djokovic may be underweight.
“If I had to bet, I wouldn’t bet too much on Casper. Does he have a chance? Yes, he is,” Zverev said after his third straight loss in Paris.
“But I don’t think it could have gone well for Casper. 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 it adds a bit of pressure.
“Do you remember the US Open final with Medvedev? Pressure, you know, we’re all human. Novak is a man.”
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