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Djokovic owns everything

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PARIS – Dedicated to those who, in his youth, turned their faces away when they found out he was Serbian. Dedicated to those who in the 1990s decided to bomb Belgrade. Dedicated to the Australian government who in January 2022 unceremoniously exposed him to the world. Dedicated to the many spectators who, year after year, enjoy booing him at Roland Garros.

And dedicated to we don’t know how many others.

“I’m going to keep winning,” Novak Djokovic had said 48 hours earlier. And he did. His 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 7-5 over Norway’s Casper Ruud gave him a third Roland Garros title and, much more importantly, the 23rd Grand Slam trophy.

In that statistic, there is no one more successful than him in the professional era, because no one has won the major tournaments so many times. Rafael Nadal with 22, Roger Federer with 20, not to mention Pete Sampras with his 14.

But there is always something more, there is still one last frontier that the Serb aspires to cross: that of winning the Grand Slam, the four major tournaments in the same season. The Australian Rod Laver did it twice, in 1962 and 1969, at the beginning of the professional tennis era. And since then, no one else.

And, on the way, to equal and surpass the 24 Grand Slams won by the Australian Margaret Court. And also to surpass her, the German Steffi Graf and the American Serena Williams, in a record that they share since 11 June, that of having won at least three times each of the major tournaments. Can anyone think that Djokovic will not want to add a fourth in Paris and New York to go beyond the record of the three ladies and keep it alone?

Djokovic, it is clear, aspires to everything, he wants to be the master of everything. And to a large extent he is. To equal Laver? He’s already halfway there. London, first, and New York, then, will tell if he can complete it.

“I was seven years old and dreamed of winning Wimbledon, I could visualise every step in my life, with every cell in my body. I tell young people to forget what happened in the past,” the Serb said at an emotional awards ceremony in which he spoke at length.

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“Live in the present, forget about what happened in the past, the future is something that is just going to happen, but if you want a better future, create it yourself. Take the means in your hands. Create it. Create it!.”

On a hot and humid afternoon in the summery Parisian spring, and with the atmosphere saturated with pollen to give free rein to all possible allergies, Djokovic offered a new lesson to the tennis world, because Ruud played better, quite better, throughout 81 minutes.

Between 15:11 and 16:32, Ruud did everything, but the last shot, an unanswered inside out forehand, was Djokovic’s, and it gave the tie break 7-1 and the set to the Serb. It was the same old story, although for more than an hour it seemed different.

Not at all, Djokovic is a Swiss watch, with apologies to the retired Federer: he played six tie breaks throughout the tournament and won all six without making a single mistake. As of this Monday, once again number one in the world, the Serb knows like perhaps nobody else when it’s time for the important points in a match.

And you can’t exactly say that he speculates. In those six tie breaks, Djokovic won 42 points and lost only 13, with 15 winners as part of the statistic.

If you’re a tennis player and you play a tie break, you better hope Djokovic doesn’t show up.

It is true that Ruud, showed more fang and toughness than in other definitions, but he will have to keep waiting. He has already lost three Grand Slam finals (Roland Garros 2022 and 2023, US Open 2022) and the Masters at the end of the year in 2022.

Surely his time will come, because his tennis and his attitude are growing. This Sunday, that great tennis and attitude lasted one set. After those 81 minutes of high level, he went back to being the Ruud who has five losses in five matches with Djokovic without ever being able to take a set from him.

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The question for Djokovic, however, is when his era will end. And the answer is simple: it’s a long way off. The Serb’s ambition, which rests on the desire to be accepted and recognised as the best tennis player ever seen on the face of the Earth, knows no bounds. This Monday he will start his 388th week as world number one, far ahead of any other opponent.

In Paris, against a Ruud who complicated him in the opening set with a dry and powerful forehand, remarkable definitions at the net and an unknown audacity, Djokovic took a great weight off his shoulders: if in 2021 he was one match away from winning the Grand Slam, but stumbled on the last step, the US Open final against Russian Daniil Medvedev, in 2023 he had the responsibility of being the big favourite in the absence of Nadal, the man 14 times champion in Paris.

And throughout the two weeks it was clear that this challenge was weighing on him. There were many stretches of matches in the early rounds in which his level was not his usual, and he had obvious difficulties in the first set of the final.

But when it came to the moment of truth, Djokovic was a reloaded Djokovic, the man with the titanium mentality, the Serbian child, teenager and young man who vowed that one day he would win everything and no one, ever again, would look down on him and make him feel inferior.

He has already achieved that. But now he wants more.

After dedicating a few sentences in Serbian to former Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is of Bosnian origin and in the champion’s guest box, Djokovic left one last word on centre court, a dry shout and a word that says it all: “Serbia!”

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