Men's final preview: Djokovic v Ruud

 - Dan Imhoff

Two-time champion chases record 23rd major against last year's finalist

Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2023, semi-final© Remy Chautard/FFT

The gulf in experience is vast: the clout of a 22-time major champion in Novak Djokovic against a man still chasing his first, Casper Ruud.

Despite the apparent disparity in accomplishments between the two, both are well aware of the enormous challenge the final ascent presents on clay.

Roland-Garros has typically proven the Serbian’s toughest major – primarily due to his great adversary Rafael Nadal bullying his way to the title for 14 years – while Ruud has already tasted defeat in two Grand Slam finals last year.

'It's an incredible privilege'

After he emerged from a physical semi-final battle with top seed Carlos Alcaraz, a heavily hyped showdown in which the young Spaniard’s body began to fail him, Djokovic downplayed the value of his previous showdowns.

“I don't think experience can be a decisive factor in matches like this,” said the 36-year-old. “It can help maybe manage your emotions or energy expenditure, I would say, but it's not gonna win you a match…

“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 a privilege. It's an incredible privilege to be able to make history of the sport that I truly love, and it has given me so much.

“The motivation is very high, as you can imagine. There is one more to go, and hopefully get my hands on the trophy.”

Like Djokovic, Ruud’s lead-up on clay did not live up to his own expectations, but he too has played his way into form, including a defeat of Holger Rune for his first top-10 win at a major in seven attempts and a resounding triumph over Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals.

“It's going to be tough, for sure,” the fourth seed said. “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…

“Tomorrow is going to be toughest challenge of the year for me, for sure… I'm gonna see if I can try to use last year's defeat in the final as a motivation and extra, extra motivation to try to play well on Sunday.”

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

'Best scenario for Casper'

Zverev said while Ruud enters Sunday’s final as a clear underdog, he would not be without his chances to become the first Norwegian Grand Slam champion.

The burden of history has a funny way of rearing its head.

“You remember the US Open final (Djokovic) had with (Daniil) Medvedev after beating me in the semis still,” Zverev said. “The pressure, you know, we are all human. Novak is human. We all feel it. So I think for him, for Casper, that's the best scenario, to be honest.”

History on the line

The equation, on paper at least, is simple for Djokovic.

Victory will make him the first man in the Open Era to secure three titles at each of the four majors and take him clear of his Nadal’s Grand Slam haul.

It would also lift him back above Alcaraz to world No.1 and take him halfway to one of the most challenging feats in the sport, one that has so far eluded all but Rod Laver in the Open Era: the calendar Grand Slam.


Djokovic has his eyes only on one prize for now.

“I'm not thinking about calendar Slam. I'm thinking really just to win another Grand Slam title here on Sunday and I'm so close. I know it. I know the feeling,” he said. “I will play someone that already has been in a Grand Slam final… Again, experience on my side, but does it win matches? I don't think so.

“I just have to recover well, be prepared for another long battle, and after the finals, if I win, let's talk about history.”

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