Djokovic v Ruud: Where the match can be won

 - Simon Cambers

Ahead of Sunday's final, here's a tactical breakdown of the match-up between the No.3 and No.4 seeds

Djokovic - Ruud

Novak Djokovic will be chasing history on Sunday when he plays Casper Ruud in the men’s final at Roland-Garros.

Victory for the 36-year-old would make him the oldest men’s champion in Paris in the Open Era and give him a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title, one more than Rafael Nadal, level with Serena Williams and one behind the all-time leader Margaret Court.

Djokovic has beaten Ruud four times out of four but the Norwegian has been improving with every match and is in the final for the second year in a row, chasing his first Slam title.

Here’s a tactical breakdown of Sunday’s final...

How well can Ruud return the Djokovic serve?

In his time with coach Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic has become one of the best servers in the game and the stats back that up.

In his six matches this tournament, the Serb has won, on average, 73 per cent of points on first serve and 52 per cent on second. In two of those matches, he’s won more than 80 per cent on first serve and 60 per cent or more on second. That means that when it comes to his opponent’s serve, Djokovic can relax, knowing he’s taking care of his own service games.

The variety, as demonstrated in the semi-final against Carlos Alcaraz, also keeps his opponent guessing. Ruud has been most effective returning the second serve, winning 56 per cent of points on average but only 36 per cent on first serves.

If Djokovic continues to get more than 60 per cent of first serves in, Ruud will need to up that percentage to make a dent.

Novak Djokovic, quarter-final, Roland-Garros 2023© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Ruud must get to the net

The Norwegian is unlikely to beat Djokovic solely from the baseline. He’s going to need to mix things up, throw in some drop shots, take some risks and more than anything, get forward when he can.

Ruud is more than comfortable at the net, and he’s been successful moving forward in this tournament: he has won 88 of his 121 points at the net.

And as much as anything, the knowledge that he should move forward as much as he can could also help to clear his mind, which will be very handy in the heat of a Grand Slam final.

Casper Ruud, fourth round, Roland-Garros 2023© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Djokovic will target the backhand

No one executes a game plan as well as Djokovic and he will know that the Ruud forehand is the area of his game that can do damage. The Norwegian has hit 105 winners on the forehand side to just 19 on the backhand.

While Djokovic will go to the forehand when needed, he’ll be relentless in exploiting this relative weakness to create the space he needs to attack.

Djokovic himself, by contrast, is much more balanced in his winners, hitting 89 on the forehand and 56 on the backhand.

Novak Djokovic, semi-final, Roland-Garros 2023© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Mental battle favours Djokovic

Djokovic has won all four of their previous meetings and has not dropped a set in the process.

No matter how hard Ruud tries to tell himself that this is his time, that record will be in both men’s heads. Djokovic is just that little bit better in almost every department of the game, which often results in straight-set wins, and the fact that he’s been there and done it, in Grand Slam finals, 22 times, while Ruud has yet to win a major, is obviously a factor.

As much as it might be a physical battle, mentally, Djokovic has a huge advantage.