Novak Djokovic became the greatest player in the history of men’s professional tennis as he celebrated a record-breaking 23rd Slam at the French Open in Paris yesterday
A 7-6 6-3 7-5 victory over Casper Ruud means that for the first time in his career, the Serbian can boast more majors than his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
Subjectively, fans may argue the retired Federer will always be the maestro of this sport, an artist with a tennis racquet.
There are those who would point to and debate the merits of Nadal’s unrivalled supremacy at Roland Garros and his indefatigable warrior spirit.
But love him or loathe him, statistically-speaking no man has won more top titles than Djokovic – a target he has been chasing ever since he turned professional 20 years ago.
And the women’s Slam target of 24 set by Margaret Court in 1973 is within his reach when he dons Wimbledon whites next month.
Several sporting superstars were courtside in the 16th arrondissement to watch Djokovic’s moment of immortality.
Tom Brady, considered to be the GOAT of American Football, was a guest in the Djokovic box and would have appreciated the unfolding racquet drama.
France World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud and former Sweden and Manchester United forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic watched from the comfy VIP seats as Djokovic achieved his crowning glory in straight sets.
Djokovic – who returns to the summit of the world rankings – is now the first man in history to win each Slam tournament at least three times.
And aged 36 years and 20 days, he eclipses Nadal as the oldest singles champion on red Parisian clay.
Of course, nobody is immune from nerves and anxiety in the big sporting moments – not even those icons who are at the pinnacle of their chosen professions – and Djokovic is no exception.
How else to explain what we witnessed in the opening tussles of his record-equalling 34th Slam final appearance when he found himself out-of-sorts and operating well below his otherwise extraordinary range.
Twenty-one minutes had passed on the Rolex-sponsored clock and to the surprise of everybody on Court Philippe-Chatrier, particularly the masses of Serbian flag-waving fans, Ruud was 3-0 up and deservedly so.
The key was a break in game two when Djokovic fluffed an overhead smash, arguably the biggest weakness in his almost near-perfect armoury.
But Ruud – who then moved 4-1 ahead – could not capitalise on this advantage, suffering his own jitters with the overhead smash in game seven.
That effort Ruud sent into the net as his serve was broken following a magnificent 28-shot rally loosened the vice-like grip he had established on Djokovic.
After an entertaining Ruud tweener lob and then a Djokovic slip, the first set eventually had to be resolved via a tie-break.
And it was in this pressurised format where Djokovic showed his enduring class, winning seven of the eight points.
Astonishingly, Djokovic – who had moaned to the chair umpire about the time allocation granted between games – had not recorded a single unforced error in his five previous tie-breaks.
And the Belgrade battler maintained that unblemished record here to take the first set with 81 minutes gone.
You felt that Norwegian Ruud, 12 years the junior, simply had to win that first set to stand any chance of causing an upset and helping out his idol Nadal, in whose academy he learned the tricks of the tramlines.
That is because Djokovic had won his last 100 MATCHES at the majors when he had clinched the opening set – the last reversal in fortunes coming in the 2016 US Open final defeat to Stan Wawrinka.
It was now only a matter of time before Djokovic, 36, would take possession of the Coupes des Mousquetaires for a third time
The second set lacked the same intensity and incident as the first and Djokovic simply motored through the gears.
Ruud, 24, had lost his previous two Slam final appearances and he did not possess the weaponry or craft to stop Djokovic over the course of three hours of combat.
The moment of destiny arrived in game 12 of the third set on the second Championship point when a forehand from Ruud travelled wide and Djokovic fell to the ground in celebration.