French Open 2023: Novak Djokovic wins record 23rd Grand Slam with victory over Casper Ruud

Novak Djokovic, de Serbia, celebra después de ganar su partido de cuartos de final en el Abierto de Francia en contra del ruso Karen Khachanov en cuatro sets, 4-6, 7-6 (7-0), 6-2, 6-4, en el estadio de Roland Garros, en París, el martes 6 de junio de 2023. (AP Foto/Jean-Francois Badias)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic made history Sunday. (AP Foto/Jean-Francois Badias)

Novak Djokovic now stands alone in tennis history, as he has always wanted to.

In the French Open men’s singles final Sunday, Djokovic won his 23rd Grand Slam title, the most of any man in the history of the game. He defeated 24-year-old Norwegian clay specialist Casper Ruud 7-6(1), 6-3, 7-5.

The 36-year-old is the first man to win at least three titles at each of the four majors. He and Serena Williams now share the tie for most Grand Slam titles behind Australian record-holder Margaret Court, who won 24 major women's singles titles.

Ruud started strong, winning the first three games before Djokovic won his first. The opening losses weren't new for the Serbian star. It’s not the rope-a-dope, exactly, but he has lost the first set of major matches before and has almost always come storming back to even the score and crush his opponent. On Sunday he came back in the first set itself, tying Ruud 4-4 before forcing a tiebreak.

That’s when Djokovic Prime activated. He won the tiebreak easily and then had a chance to rest before the second set started. The wind picked up as Djokovic broke Ruud in his first service game, establishing a 3-0 lead early in the second set. In two hours, 13 minutes, Djokavic had the two-set advantage.

Ruud caught momentum in the third set, giving his dialed-in opponent a battle until Djokovic secured the advantage with a pivotal break in the 11th game. It was history watch from then on, and the champion laid out on the clay once he'd officially notched the victory.

This is Ruud’s second straight year in the French Open final, and he was looking for his first championship victory at Roland-Garros. Last year he lost to Rafael Nadal, and Sunday he lost to Novak, yet another of the greatest players of all time.

"What an inspiration you are to millions of people all over the world," Ruud said to a smiling Djokovic after the match. "I'm happy I'm the first person to congratulate you from here. From the stage."

Ruud closed his remarks with thanks to the French crowd, which he said gave him motivation to return next year. He is part of a group of talented young players who are eager to take over the sport. Their time will come, but Djokovic is not ready to relinquish his spot. Nor should he be. He has always aimed to be not just the best in the sport, but the greatest tennis player of all time.

Tom Brady was in Djokovic's box today, and what he has done in football is exactly what Djokovic wants to do in tennis. Almost 10 years younger than the seven-time Super Bowl champion, Djokovic is already doing it. While Roger Federer and Nadal have broken down with injuries, Djokovic is going strong, missing time over the past few years only due to his personal choice to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Brady wasn't the only star to witness Djokovic extend his legacy Sunday. Footballer Kylian Mbappé and the recently retired Zlatan Ibrahimović were in the crowd. Heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson was also in attendance.

While Djokovic now has the men's record for Grand Slam title wins, Nadal has won the French Open championship a record 14 times. He missed the tournament this year after an injury from the Australian Open required surgery. Although Djokovic made it clear that he viewed Nadal's absence as an opportunity to win, joking that he didn't miss him, the Spanish great offered Djokovic congratulations via Twitter.

It’s narratively satisfying when younger players battle and win over the previous generation. It signals a changing of the guard and the forward flow of time. But Djokovic isn’t on board.

"I really wish you all the best. I wish you to win against anyone except me," he told Ruud before accepting La Coupe des Mousquetaires. "If I lose early in a Grand Slam, you can win it, no problem."

It's clear Djokovic is set on continuing to write his own story. Almost immediately after being crowned champion, he expressed excitement for the next Grand Slam. He didn't speak too much about Wimbledon coming up in early July, but he’s not going anywhere until he’s ready. Right now, he seems pretty comfortable at the top of the tennis world.