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Tennis-Pressure at its peak as Djokovic guns for Major number 23


By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) – Pressure will be immense on Sunday when Novak Djokovic faces Casper Ruud in the French Open final with a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam title and his position in the pantheon of tennis at stake.

Still in a three-way tie with 20-times major champion Roger Federer and fellow 22-times Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the debate on who is the greatest of all time, the Serbian can also become the first male player to claim three titles in each of the four Grand Slams.

While Djokovic, who will take part in a record 34th Grand Slam final, will have experience on his side on court Philippe Chatrier, the fourth-seeded Ruud is unlikely to be as frozen as he was in last year’s final against his mentor Rafael Nadal.

In 2021, Djokovic was on the brink of completing a calendar slam — winning all four majors in the same year — but was beaten in straight sets in the final in New York by Daniil Medvedev.

“Novak is one of the best players in the world, that’s for sure, but when you’re on the brink of history I think that adds a little bit of pressure,” three-time French Open semi-finalist Alexander Zverev said.

“You remember the U.S. Open final he had with Medvedev after beating me in the semis still. The pressure… we are all human. Novak is human. We all feel it.

The 36-year-old has won five of the last nine Grand Slams and is confident that he can extend his streak in majors to 14 match victories after playing an unbelievable first set in his four-set win against a cramping Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.

“I put myself in another really ideal position to win a Grand Slam,” said Djokovic, who will also snatch the world number one spot from Spain’s Alcaraz if he lifts the Musketeers Cup.

With the fickle French Open crowd often backing the underdog, Djokovic might face a few jeers, but he could not care less.

“I don’t mind. It’s not the first (time), probably not the last. I’ll just keep winning,” he said.

Ruud has never taken a set from Djokovic in their four previous meetings but the Norwegian has had a smooth run into the final, playing flawlessly, if not spectacularly.

On paper, Ruud has prepared for every scenario.

“I’m just going to try to play without too much emotion. I think that’s when I can play my best tennis when I don’t overthink the situation and think too much that I have to win this match, because then things go on automatic mode,” said Ruud, who will be in his third Grand Slam final.

“Of course if I was to maybe win a set or be closer to victory, you’re going to feel the nerves and then it’s important to be mentally prepared.

“I’m going to try to visualise myself in both winning and losing situations on Sunday and see if I can have a game plan ready.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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