Rafael Nadal is unlikely to match Novak Djokovic's haul of 24 grand slam titles, but the Spaniard is capable of capping his remarkable career with one last Roland Garros triumph next year. 

That is the opinion of Feliciano Lopez, who hopes to see Nadal overcome his injury woes to enjoy a triumphant send-off in 2024.

Nadal's total of 22 grand slam titles is only bettered by Djokovic among male players, with the Serbian matching Margaret Court's overall record by winning the US Open.

Djokovic has won three of four grand slams in 2023, with injuries leading Nadal to miss the last three majors after he was eliminated from the Australian Open by Mackenzie McDonald in January.

Nadal confirmed earlier this year that 2024 would "probably" be his last year on the tour, and former world number nine Lopez is desperate to see his compatriot go out on a high.

Asked if Nadal could add to his 14 French Open titles – a single-slam record – next year, Lopez told Stats Perform: "With Rafa, you never know, because he has shown on other occasions that he was able to come back stronger, even when he had significant injuries. 

"It will depend a lot on how he feels physically, that will be key. I wouldn't be surprised to see him competing at a good level next year and I would love for him to say goodbye by winning Roland Garros. 

"It would be a dream for me and many people to see him lift that cup once again.

"It is very difficult for me to talk about Rafa, because he has changed the way we see sport in Spain. Before Rafa we had great athletes, but none transcended sport the way he has.

"Rafa's figure in Spanish sport and in the lives of Spanish people… there will be none like him. 

"There have been many joys that he has given us. He has given us examples in many situations outside of sports. There will be a before and after [Nadal] in Spanish sport."

While Nadal now looks highly unlikely to match the evergreen Djokovic for total grand slam titles, Lopez does not believe that will concern the 37-year-old.

"The issue of numbers and who is bigger than who fuels the media a lot," Lopez added. "At this moment in Rafa's life, I don't think he is thinking about that.

"With the numbers, we can see who won the most things, but that is not the question. I want him to return so he can compete again for one last year at the highest level. 

"Hopefully he wins one or two more grand slams, but right now, his goal is to recover and be physically competitive. 

"That is what Rafa needs and wants, because if he is not feeling well enough to compete, it will be very difficult for him to be able to play many tournaments next year." 

Rafael Nadal's impact on tennis has been "tremendous" but Marion Bartoli believes he already has a natural successor in Carlos Alcaraz.

The 22-time major champion confirmed he plans to retire next year following a decorated career that has seen him claim nearly every major honour in tennis.

His exit would leave just one of the sport's 'Big Three' left, in Novak Djokovic, following Roger Federer's retirement last year following the Laver Cup.

While Bartoli feels Nadal's legacy speaks for itself, she also suggests the rise of Alcaraz, who took his second grand slam at Wimbledon earlier this month, might mitigate his departure from the world stage.

"[His impact is] tremendous, but in some ways for him, because Alcaraz is Spanish, it almost feels like the torch has been passed," the 2013 Wimbledon champion told Stats Perform.

"[It is] the new generation that is starting to win, starting to be the best in the world. It might feel less like he's leaving tennis.

"Look at Roger. In Switzerland, there is nobody coming after [him]. In Spain, there is already somebody winning. Rafa will probably accept that, but it's never easy to walk away from something you have done for many years.

"That you have been so successful, that is part of your DNA, part of you, something that everybody recognises you for [in] being that amazing champion at Roland Garros."

Bartoli believes Nadal's decision has been made with an eye on the future, and acknowledges that the physical cost of his profession has to be considered.

"It's not easy to say that you're not going to play at Roland Garros again," she added. "That's just what you have to recover from. I think Rafa has been laying out his future really well.

"He's going into business, he's a father now. He has so many things to look forward to, but he has to preserve his body enough, so he doesn't have pains that stop him from living normally.

"As an athlete, when you walk away from your career, you don't want to have damaged your body so much that you can't even enjoy normal things in normal life.

"Rafa is at that point where he has to think whether it's worth giving it a final go or whether it's not worth it because it will damage his body long term."

Novak Djokovic might have won the French Open, but Gilles Simon does not foresee too many more grand slam victories for the world number one.

Djokovic overcame Casper Ruud 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 7-5 at Roland Garros on Sunday to claim his 23rd major title, taking him clear of Rafael Nadal (22).

The Serbian turned 36 last month, however, and speaking before the tournament, former world number six Simon suggested Djokovic must enjoy the major triumphs while they are here.

Simon pointed to the now-retired Roger Federer and Nadal, who will retire next year, as prime examples of top players being unable to retain their level beyond the age of 37.

"There's a lot less serenity and so he's into his own thing," said Simon, speaking to Stats Perform at the Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas.

"[Djokovic winning the French Open] will stop the GOAT, not the GOAT debate. In fact, it won't stop it, but at least we'll stop talking about this famous number of grand slam records and we'll understand that, in the end, there are those for whom the best player is the best on the court, but he's already the one who has the best stats.

"Of course he doesn't have the easy road in the sense that he has not ten years in front of him. In other words, he's [winning] two more grand slams, maximum. It's not easy, so he better win slams now.

"He does not have time. He's 36, he's struggling and it's easy to see why. Roger, 37 years old, nothing after that. Rafa, 36 last year [37 now], and nothing after that. Novak will be no exception to the rule.

"Rafa, the last grand slam he won (2022 French Open), it was very hard physically. Novak, he's won several grand slams with the adductor tear, elbow, abs, whatever. It's been a long time since they won a slam by rolling over everyone, as they did before."

Novak Djokovic became the most decorated men’s tennis player in grand slam history with his French Open success on Sunday.

The 23rd major title of his career broke the record he jointly held with Rafael Nadal and here, the PA news agency looks at his record and how he compares to his rivals.

King of the grand slams

Djokovic has won 10 Australian Opens and seven at Wimbledon, with three each now at the French and US Opens.

That makes him the first man ever to win at least three singles titles at all four grand slam tournaments – a measure of his all-round greatness.

Nadal, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson have won each at least twice with Fred Perry, Don Budge, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer the other men with a career slam.

Djokovic’s 10 Australian titles are a record, for the Open era or for a male player – Margaret Court won 11 women’s singles titles, seven of them in the amateur era.

He is the only man other than Nadal, with 14 French Open wins, to reach double figures at a single slam. Federer holds the record of eight at Wimbledon, with no man winning more than seven US Open titles, or five in the Open era.

Djokovic has won six of the last eight major tournaments he has played and three in a row and will head to the next, Wimbledon, as a four-time defending champion – a run dating back to 2018, with the 2020 tournament not being played due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since that wipeout, his only grand slam defeats came to perennial champion Nadal at Roland Garros in the 2022 quarter-final and at the US Open in 2020 – when he was disqualified for hitting a ball girl with a ball – and 2021 when Daniil Medvedev beat him in the final to end his dream of a calendar year grand slam. He is chasing that goal once more this year.

Djokovic has won 88 per cent of his grand slam matches, 348 of 395, and will surely pass 400 matches and 350 wins by the end of the year – more than likely during Wimbledon next month.

The big three

Federer was the first of the modern ‘big three’ to truly push forward the level of elite tennis, winning 16 of his majors by January 2010 when he completed his fourth Australia Open success.

At that point he had reached eight straight finals and at least the semi-final in 23 consecutive slams. He went on to extend his run of quarter-finals to 36, stretching from Wimbledon 2003 to the 2013 French Open.

His last major title came at the 2018 Australian Open, with Djokovic denying him another in the Wimbledon 2019 final before Federer retired last year.

Nadal’s 22 titles have of course been compiled primarily in Paris, with 14 titles from 18 visits. He won nine out of 10 from 2005 to 2014 and five out of six since 2017 before missing this year’s event due to injury.

One of the exceptions came when he withdrew due to injury before his third-round match in 2016, meaning he has lost only three matches at Roland Garros – two to Djokovic, in the 2015 quarter-finals and the 2021 semis and Robin Soderling in 2009’s fourth round – while winning 112.

The Spaniard has four US Open titles and two each at Melbourne and Wimbledon. The 2010 US Open made him the youngest man, aged 24, to complete a career slam.

Djokovic has now surpassed both men on the statistics sheet and with Nadal, 37, battling injury troubles and set to sit out the rest of this season, it seems Djokovic’s longevity and all-round quality will establish him as the consensus best of all time.

Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek confirmed their supremacy by taking home the French Open trophies.

Djokovic overtakes Carlos Alcaraz to return to world number one as a result while Swiatek has shored up a position at the top of the women’s rankings that was in danger.

As the tennis circus moves onto the grass and the build-up to Wimbledon, the PA news agency answers the important questions.

What did we learn about the men’s game?

That Djokovic will always find his best level at a grand slam irrespective of his results in the build-up. The younger generation may be able to beat him over best-of-three sets but best-of-five is another story. With Rafael Nadal out for the season and seemingly heading for retirement, 36-year-old Djokovic looks more dominant than ever.

Could he complete the calendar Grand Slam?

Why not? No man has managed it since Rod Laver in 1969 but the French Open has always been the hardest slam for Djokovic to win. He will be a hot favourite at Wimbledon, where he is trying to tie Roger Federer’s record of eight titles. The US Open has been the most unpredictable slam in recent years, with nerves getting the better of Djokovic the only previous time he had the opportunity to claim the Grand Slam in 2021, but second time around it could well be different.

How will Alcaraz be feeling?

The Spaniard produced some electrifying tennis in Paris but it was a surprise to see him break down physically so relatively early in his semi-final against Djokovic. He was very open afterwards in admitting the tension of the occasion got the better of him. It is easy to forget he is still only 20 and he will no doubt learn from the experience. His talent and potential remain off the charts.

What about Swiatek?

The 22-year-old Pole lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for the third time in four years with a tight victory over Karolina Muchova that in some ways feels her most important slam result. Swiatek has shown since racing to the title in Paris in 2020 that she is a ruthless front-runner but fighting through the tough battles has not come so easily. This will be a huge confidence booster.

And the British challenge?

Disappointing to say the least. Only three players made the start-line in singles and of those only Cameron Norrie won a match, with another injury for Jack Draper that rules him out of the grass season compounding the misery. Norrie did well to defeat two French players and the vocal crowd but put in a poor performance against Lorenzo Musetti in the third round.

Is it doom and gloom for Wimbledon?

Not necessarily. The absences of Draper and Emma Raducanu are a blow but Andy Murray has started well on the grass with a Challenger title in Surbiton and Norrie was a semi-finalist last year. All the British women will need wild cards, which is pretty embarrassing, but grass will be an opportunity for the likes of Katie Boulter, Katie Swan, Jodie Burrage and Harriet Dart to push towards the top 100.

Coach Goran Ivanisevic believes Novak Djokovic has “a lot more” grand slam titles in him.

The Serbian broke the record he has been pursuing relentlessly with his 23rd major trophy at the French Open on Sunday, making him the most successful male player ever.

He can equal Margaret Court’s all-time record at Wimbledon, where he will be the hot favourite, and could break it at the US Open, where a first calendar Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver in 1969 would also be on the line.

That he has reached 23 despite the problems caused by his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, leading to him being deported from Australia last year and missing the US Open, is all the more remarkable.

“It’s incredible,” said former Wimbledon champion Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach since 2019.

“If I go back last year in Australia where all this s**t started and then we didn’t know what to do. And now he’s with 23 grand slams and it’s no end.

“I’m really sorry that Rafa (Nadal) is not here, but I say a long time ago before even I became member of his team that him and Rafa, they’re going to go over 22.

“I am hoping Rafa is coming back winning one more and Novak is the only player who can win the calendar Grand Slam. He was one match away two years ago, so he has a chance this year.

“It’s still a long way. But grand slams are the goal. I don’t know how many, but I think he has in his body a lot more.”

Djokovic’s two children, Stefan and Tara, watched him lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a third time but Djokovic shows no sign of tiring of life on the road or the demands of top-level tennis.

“Sometimes I see it and then he comes on the court and then you’ll see how much he enjoys to practise, how much he enjoys to hit winners, how much he enjoys to work on little details,” said Ivanisevic.

“Winning in front of this unbelievable crowd, unbelievable stadium. He’s keeping his body great, he’s in great shape. Thank God not too many injuries.

“So it’s fascinating to see because sometimes you think, ‘OK, now you have 23’. But he’s going to find, again, some kind of motivation to win 24, maybe 25, who knows where is the end.”

While Djokovic defeated Ruud in the final, his biggest hurdle was getting past Carlos Alcaraz – who he has surpassed again as world number one – in the semi-finals.

After two pulsating sets, 20-year-old Alcaraz was stricken by cramp, ending his hopes of landing a rare meaningful blow for the next generation against Djokovic.

It is very unlikely to be their last grand slam battle and Ivanisevic said: “I love Carlos. First of all, he’s a great kid. And he’s such a well-educated (guy), nice, always laughing, great tennis player, already won a grand slam.

“He’s going to be extremely dangerous. There are few more guys, always (Daniil) Medvedev but Carlos, I love that guy. He’s a fresh air for tennis, how he plays, how he smiles, how he’s happy, how he plays tennis on the court, the ideas, is just amazing.

“For sure he’s going to be a threat. He’s going to be a threat on grass, he’s going to be a threat on hard court, he’s going to be a threat everywhere. But, it’s always this ‘but’. He’s still young. You have Novak and you can’t ever bet against Novak.”

Fourth seed Ruud has now made three slam finals in a year having lost to Nadal at Roland Garros 12 months ago and Alcaraz in New York.

He has won only one match at Wimbledon in three attempts and last year earned headlines for saying grass was for golf.

“It was more of a joke that got taken too seriously,” he said. “I think it’s fun to play. It doesn’t suit my game very well. I feel a little uncomfortable on it.

“But it’s always so fun to come to Wimbledon. It’s maybe the most historic event that we have. So I really look forward to being back there, and this year we’re playing for points again. I’m going to try to be ready and give it my best effort.

“I have become friends. I enjoy being on the golf course and I enjoy being at Wimbledon.”

Novak Djokovic stood proudly at the pinnacle of men’s tennis – and then warned his rivals there is plenty more still to come.

Since claiming his first grand slam title at the Australian Open in 2008, Djokovic has been pursuing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal through the history books, but he has surpassed both having broken the record he jointly held with Nadal by claiming his 23rd trophy at the French Open.

Djokovic’s 7-6 (1) 6-3 7-5 victory over Ruud draws him level with Serena Williams and he could equal Margaret Court’s all-time singles mark at Wimbledon next month.

It is now all but impossible to make the case for anyone other than Djokovic being the greatest male player of all time and, having won six of the last eight major tournaments he has played, at 36 he is more dominant than ever.

“Those two guys were occupying my mind for the last 15 years quite a lot,” he said. “So it’s amazing to know that I’m one ahead.

“I don’t want to say that I am the greatest because I feel it’s disrespectful towards all the great champions in different eras of our sport that was played in a completely different way than it is played today.

“So I leave those kind of discussions of who is the greatest to someone else. I have, of course, huge faith and confidence and belief in myself and for everything that I am and who I am and what I am capable of doing.

“I feel incredibly proud, fulfilled. Of course the journey is still not over. I feel, if I’m winning slams, why even think about ending the career that already has been going on for 20 years?

“I still feel motivated, I still feel inspired to play the best tennis at these tournaments the most. I look forward already to Wimbledon.”

The Serbian also becomes the first man ever to win at least three slam titles at all the major tournaments – a measure of his all-round greatness – while he will overtake Carlos Alcaraz on Monday to return to world number one.

Djokovic arrived in Paris without a title on clay this season but once again has showed that probably his biggest strength is being able to peak when it really matters, both within matches and during the season.

He outlasted Alcaraz in a semi-final that felt more like the de facto final and, although Ruud made much more of a match of it than he had against Nadal at the same stage last year, at no point did the outcome appear in doubt.

Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic has seen it all before. The former Wimbledon champion said: “He has this software in his head that he can switch when a grand slam comes.

“Grand slam is a different sport comparing to other tournaments. The day we arrived here, he was better, he was more motivated, he was more hungry.”

Nerves had got the better of Djokovic the last time he played for the outright lead at the US Open back in 2021 and he lost to Daniil Medvedev.

He made a nervous start here, going 3-0 down, but Ruud lost his break in the seventh game and the tie-break was again where Djokovic really stepped up – in six tie-breaks in Paris, he did not make a single unforced error.

Djokovic kept his foot down at the start of the second set and, although Ruud performed strongly in the third set, he is still yet to win one in five matches against the Serbian.

When the Norwegian’s final forehand flew wide, Djokovic lay down in the clay savouring the moment before celebrating with his support camp and then  apologising for “torturing” them during his on-court speech.

“He is not an easy guy,” Ivanisevic said. “Especially when something’s not going his way. But we are here to put our back (for him) and to get beaten.

“He was torturing us, taking our nails off. A lot more things, but I cannot tell you that. But we are still here, we’re alive. My heart is still OK. I’m an old man, I need to be careful of my heart.

“I’m very proud of him, especially the last two matches. He’s unbelievable, and he’s still moving like a cat on the court. He’s there. Like a ninja, he’s everywhere.

“He takes the legs, then he takes your soul, then he digs your grave and you have a funeral and you’re dead. Bye-bye. Thank you for coming.”

Ruud joins an unwanted club including Andy Murray, Ivan Lendl and Dominic Thiem of players to have lost their first three slam finals, with Alcaraz having got the better of him at the US Open last summer.

The fourth seed took confidence from having overcome a poor start to the season and his own doubts to make it back to the final, saying: “I think this is maybe the most important final that I reached.

“Here I sort of proved that whatever happened last year is not a one-time case. Even for next year when we come back to Roland Garros, people are going to look, ‘Oh, Casper didn’t just make one final but he made it twice’.

“Probably going to plant some respect in my opponents’ eyes and hopefully I can build on that, and one day I’m going to try to obviously aim for a slam title. That’s my biggest goal, my biggest dream in my career and in my life. It’s been close –  close but no cigar.”

Nadal, meanwhile, was among the first to congratulate Djokovic, saying: “Many congrats on this amazing achievement @DjokerNole 23 is a number that just a few years back was impossible to think about, and you made it! Enjoy it with your family and team!”

Andy Murray congratulated Novak Djokovic on his French Open triumph before joking he hoped the 23-time grand slam singles champion would now “take his eye off the ball” in the build-up to Wimbledon.

Both men enjoyed successful Sundays, with Murray stepping up his preparations for SW19 in style with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Austrian Jurij Rodionov in the men’s final of the Lexus Surbiton Trophy.

Murray’s victory earned him a seeded position at Wimbledon next month, with the 36-year-old now eyeing a third title at his home grand slam after lifting the trophy in 2013 and 2016.

Djokovic, meanwhile, moved alone at the pinnacle of men’s tennis by defeating Casper Ruud in straight sets in the Roland Garros final.

“I’m not saying he makes it look easy but he makes it look a lot more easy than it should,” Murray said of the Serbian.

“I am happy for him, he deserves it. When he beat me in the final of the (2016) French Open he lost motivation so maybe he can take his eye off the ball for the next few weeks heading into Wimbledon!

“But congratulations to him – it’s an incredible achievement.”

Murray, who said he was heading up to Nottingham on Sunday evening and planning some “light” practice on Monday, showcased a powerful shot collection to dismantle Rodionov en route to his first title on home soil in seven years.

The Scot’s serve was a vital weapon on the day and his intricate shot selection left his opponent at times scrambling across the turf in the sweltering conditions.

And Murray, who was backed by a fervent Surbiton crowd, began to punish the Austrian with classy forehands which forced errors from his opponent as he took a firmer grip on the tie.

The number two seed continued to bombard Rodionov with a series of quality serves just before a heavy downpour suspended play, which offered some much-needed respite to both players after temperatures reached 29 degrees.

Play resumed nearly three hours later and Murray quickly reasserted himself on his unseeded opponent to close out the match, much to the delight of the Surbiton crowd.

Murray was pleased with his win, but was not resting on his laurels and said he would continue to “strive for more”.

“Winning any tournament is hard,” said the former world number one, who has been plagued by injuries in recent years including hip and abdominal issues.

“The journey of getting back to this point has been tough and I think I played some good tennis at times this week and tennis what will give me a good opportunity, especially if I serve like that against most players and I am excited about that.

“It’s taken a long time to get back to this place and a lot of work with some tough losses, but I’ve kept working and believing.”

He continued: “I didn’t know if I would be playing again, and I am fortunate to be back competing again at a high level.

“I don’t want to downplay this tournament because winning any tournament is great and winning tournaments at any level is not easy, but I still strive for more. I believe there is more in me so hopefully I can achieve that in the next few weeks.”

Earlier, Yanina Wickmayer prevented Katie Swan from securing the British number one spot after coming back from a set down to win 2-6 6-4 7-6 (1) in the women’s final.

In a courtside interview broadcast by the LTA, Swan said: “I feel like it was a high-level match all the way through.

“It was tough because as soon as I dropped my levels slightly she was all over me and I had to maintain that for as long as I could. It was so tough but it was really high level overall.

“She is in unbelievable shape, I don’t know how she can be that good after having a baby. I think it’s incredible what she’s doing.”

Novak Djokovic secured his most significant piece of tennis history with his 23rd grand slam title.

The Serbian defeated Casper Ruud 7-6 (1) 6-3 7-5 in the French Open final to break the men’s all-time record he shared with Rafael Nadal.

It was a third final defeat for Norwegian Ruud, who was unable to take his chances in the first set.

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Women’s singles: Iga Swiatek (Poland)
Men’s singles: Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
Women’s doubles: Hsieh Su-wei (Chinese Taipei) and Wang Xinyu (China)
Men’s doubles: Ivan Dodig (Croatia) and Austin Krajicek (USA)
Mixed doubles: Miyu Kato (Japan) and Tim Puetz (Germany)
Girls’ singles: Alina Korneeva
Boys’ singles: Dino Prizmic (Croatia)
Girls’ doubles: Clervie Ngounoue (USA) and Tyra Grant (USA)
Boys’ doubles: Yaroslav Demin and Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez (Mexico)
Women’s wheelchair singles: Diede De Groot (Netherlands)
Men’s wheelchair singles: Tokito Oda (Japan)
Women’s wheelchair doubles: Yui Kamiji (Japan) and Kgothatso Montjane (South Africa)
Men’s wheelchair doubles: Alfie Hewett (Great Britain) and Gordon Reid (Great Britain)
Quad wheelchair singles: Niels Vink (Netherlands)
Quad wheelchair doubles: Andy Lapthorne (Great Britain) and Donald Ramphadi (South Africa)

Novak Djokovic stands alone at the pinnacle of men’s tennis after defeating Casper Ruud to win his 23rd grand slam title at the French Open.

Since claiming his first at the Australian Open in 2008, Djokovic has been pursuing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal through the history books but now he has surpassed both having broken the record he jointly held with Nadal.

Djokovic’s 7-6 (1) 6-3 7-5 victory over Ruud draws him level with Serena Williams and he could equal Margaret Court’s all-time singles mark at Wimbledon next month.

The Serbian, meanwhile, also becomes the first man ever to win at least three slam titles at all the major tournaments – a measure of his all-round greatness.

Ruud had impressed in making it back to the final, where he won only six games against Nadal last year, and was looking for his first title in his third final having also lost to Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open.

He had failed to win a set in four previous matches against Djokovic, though, and missed his chance here in an 81-minute opener before the Serbian pulled away for his 21st consecutive slam victory.

This was the most humid day of the fortnight and, with black clouds looming, it appeared the match would be played under the roof on Philippe Chatrier only for the cover to be removed just before the start.

Ruud’s best chance was to make a fast start and take advantage of the nerves Djokovic would surely be feeling so close to a goal he has been pursuing relentlessly for years.

On his only previous shot at striking out on his own, at the US Open in 2021, he had rather frozen in sight of the line, losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final.

Ruud had read the script and came out sharp, exploiting Djokovic’s unusually leaden footwork with high shots to push his opponent back and breaking in the second game when the Serbian shanked a smash – the one remaining weakness in his game.

Djokovic had NFL great Tom Brady in his player box, while Kylian Mbappe and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were also in the crowd, and they witnessed Djokovic claw his way back, breaking in the seventh game after a punishing rally that ended with Ruud netting an overhead.

Djokovic refused to miss in another long rally after Ruud created a break point in the next game, but it was the third seed cursing himself for a missed opportunity at 4-4, with his irritation compounded when he lost his balance and fell sprawling to the clay.

Djokovic also complained vociferously to the umpire about the quick turnaround between games as the set extended beyond the hour mark.

The longer it went on, the more important it became to win it, and Ruud was two points away on Djokovic’s serve after winning a point with a tweener lob but that was as close as he would come.

One of Djokovic’s greatest strengths is the ability to raise his level at key moments and he won an absurd sixth tie-break of the tournament without making a single unforced error.

Given Djokovic had won his previous 100 slam matches once he had taken the opening set, it was a crushing blow for Ruud, and that was compounded when he dropped serve in the second game of the second set.

Djokovic now looked fully settled, with his forehand purring, and, although Ruud saved two set points at 2-5, the door was firmly shut in his face in the next game.

Ruud was now clinging on by his fingernails but he was determined not to allow Djokovic to run away with it, as Nadal had last year.

The Norwegian found a better rhythm on his serve and applied some pressure to Djokovic, although he was left cursing his luck when his opponent benefited from a lucky netcord down 0-30 at 3-4, giving the French crowd a final chance for a round of booing.

The question seemed to be when Djokovic would make his move, though, and it came at 5-5, a series of superlative groundstrokes earning him the break, and moments later his moment of history.

Nadal was among the first to hail the Serbian, tweeting: “Many congrats on this amazing achievement @DjokerNole. 23 is a number that just a few years back was imposible to think about, and you made it! Enjoy it with your family and team!”

Iga Swiatek could end her French Open career with a record to rival Rafael Nadal’s, tournament director Amelie Mauresmo believes.

The Pole cemented her status as one of the best women’s players on clay in recent decades by winning her third title in four years just after her 22nd birthday.

That matches the career progression of Nadal almost to the day, although Swiatek has one US Open title while the Spaniard won on his first four visits to Roland Garros.

“Her record is very impressive, just like Rafa’s record was when he started,” said former world number one Mauresmo.

“Three titles in four editions is huge, it’s very impressive. I think we’re still a little bit far away from the 14 titles but, when Rafa started, no-one also thought he would get to 14 so anything can happen.”

Swiatek found herself really tested for the first time in a grand slam final, twice coming from a break down in the deciding set to beat Karolina Muchova 6-2 5-7 6-4.

She is not looking too far ahead, saying: “I’m just happy with what happened during these past few weeks. I don’t know what I’m capable of.

“So I will work day by day to play the best game possible and to develop as a player. I’m not setting any crazy records or goals for myself. I know that keeping it cool is the best way to do it for me. I’m trying more to do that.”

Swiatek has not had things all her own way this season, with a couple of injuries disrupting her schedule, while Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have raised their game to create what has been described as a big three of women’s tennis.

Sabalenka could have overtaken Swiatek in the rankings in Paris, and the Belarusian will have high hopes of doing so on the grass, where she has been much stronger than her rival in the past.

Swiatek did not shy away from talking herself up in comparison to Sabalenka and Rybakina, saying: “I look at my clay-court season and I see on every tournament I really played consistently.

“I reached quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals, I won Stuttgart, I won this tournament. I’m just focused on myself and I don’t care about the other two players.”

For Muchova, it was a bitter-sweet experience, with the Czech handling herself extremely well in her first grand slam final but falling short when the match looked like it was almost in her grasp.

What will give a lot of confidence to the 26-year-old, who will be ranked at a career-high 16 on Monday, is that clay is her least favourite surface.

“I wouldn’t expect it that much on the clay, honestly,” she said. “I look forward to playing on the grass, on the fast surfaces. It’s just nice to know that I can play on the clay great as well.

“This was my last clay tournament. It could have ended up a little bit better, but it was still pretty great.”

It was one of the best endings to a women’s grand slam in recent years, with both semi-finals bringing high quality and drama before a very good final.

There has been a lot of focus again in Paris on the scheduling, with the one-match night session featuring women only once for the second year in a row.

Mauresmo defended the decision-making, insisting other slots considered prime time featured more women’s matches this year.

Organisers do not want matches finishing in the early hours of the morning like they routinely do at the Australian Open and US Open, and Mauresmo admitted the possibility of a quick two-set women’s contest is a key factor in favouring men.

Swiatek, meanwhile, revealed she prefers playing in the day and had requested not to play at night.

“This doesn’t make also our life easier,” said Mauresmo. “I’m comfortable with the scheduling in the day but, yes, we can do better on the night matches.”

Karolina Muchova produced one of the shocks of the French Open by upsetting Aryna Sabalenka to reach her first grand slam final.

Muchova came from 5-2 down in the final set, saving a match point, to win 7-6 (5) 6-7 (5) 7-5 and will take on defending champion Iga Swiatek, who survived her first test, beating Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 7-6 (7).

Miyu Kato found Paris redemption in the mixed doubles, winning the title with German Tim Puetz after her disqualification from the women’s doubles.

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The men’s finalists will be decided at Roland Garros on Friday.

The blockbuster match comes first up when world number one Carlos Alcaraz meets Novak Djokovic for only the second time in a generational clash for supremacy in the men’s game.

The second encounter, meanwhile, sees Casper Ruud trying to make a second final in two years against Alexander Zverev, whose semi-final here last year against Rafael Nadal ended with him leaving the court in a wheelchair.

Alexander Zverev battled his way back into the French Open semi-finals a year after suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

The German left Philippe Chatrier in a wheelchair 12 months ago after being forced to retire during a compelling last-four clash with Rafael Nadal.

Zverev had struggled since returning to the tour in January but has buried his demons on the Parisian clay and fought for three hours and 22 minutes to make it past surprise package Tomas Etcheverry 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4.

“That was the most difficult year of my life,” he said.

“I love tennis with all my heart. I’m so happy to be back at this stage, I’m so happy to be able to play for a Roland Garros final again. I can’t be happier.”

Argentinian Etcheverry, 23, did himself huge credit in the biggest match of his career, wowing the Philippe Chatrier crowd with thumping winners and fighting to the end.

But it was Zverev who was just the stronger in the big moments, saving six of the nine break points he faced to make it to the last four here for the third year in a row.

Zverev said of his opponent: “He’s playing incredible tennis, he reminds me a lot of (Juan Martin) Del Potro, the way he hits his forehand especially. If he continues playing like this he’s going in the quarter-finals here a lot more often for sure and I think he can be top 10.

“I just had to remember that I have a pair of balls that I can use. I hope, I think I deserved to win. I’m just happy to be through.”

A dispirited Coco Gauff was forced to digest a seventh straight loss to Iga Swiatek as the defending champion progressed to another French Open semi-final.

The pair had met in the final 12 months ago, with Gauff winning just four games, and the American had not won a set in their six previous clashes.

The statistic remains and, although Gauff had some success with a new game plan and pushed the world number one in a 6-4 6-2 defeat, that was of little consolation.

“Obviously you lose to someone seven times, you feel crappy,” said Gauff, who struggled to hold back tears.

“It’s not fun at all but also, every time I play her, I’m not thinking about the previous record. If I go in believing that I lost the match before it already happens then I’m never going to win.

“But obviously when it’s over, yeah, it does suck.”

Gauff came out with different tactics to last year’s final, testing Swiatek with high, slower balls to her backhand and trying not to allow the top seed to get into a rhythm.

Gauff’s big opportunity came in the third game of the second set when she created three break points – the third after drilling a point-blank backhand at Swiatek at the net, sending the Pole tumbling to the clay as she tried to avoid it.

Gauff swiftly apologised, but it was Swiatek who had the last laugh as the American fired shots long on each of her opportunities.

“I think a lot of the points I lost were off really small details,” said the teenager. “The game in the third set I had an opportunity to go up 40-0 and then also I was up 40-15 on her serve and missed two returns. That’s on my end.”

Gauff was unrepentant about hitting Swiatek, saying: “I didn’t try to hit her. I was just trying to hit the ball hard in the middle of the court, and it happened to hit her.

“I apologised after but I think she knows that’s part of the game. If you hit a bad ball and you decide to run to the net, there’s always a risk that you get hit.”

The Pole did not react at the time, and said later: “I don’t really know if that was her only option or not but I know Coco is a nice person and she wouldn’t mean it. Nothing personal. It happens.”

Swiatek extended her record at Roland Garros to 26-2 as she chases a third title in four years and she has only lost 15 games in five matches so far.

While she is a clear favourite to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen again, Swiatek does not want to take an all-or-nothing approach.

“It’s never like that, honestly, especially at a grand slam,” she said. “I’m pretty happy to be in the semi-final again at Roland Garros. It’s a great achievement no matter how the tournament is going to finish.

“Especially coming into the tournament as a defending champion, it puts a lot of pressure on you. I’m really happy I can show consistency and just play good here every year.”

In the last four, Swiatek will face a player who has taken a much more scenic route in 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, who defeated Ons Jabeur to become the first Brazilian woman to reach the French Open semi-finals in the open era.

After battling for nearly four hours to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo in the fourth round, she found herself with work to do after losing the opening set to seventh seed Jabeur but fought back impressively to win 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-1.

Haddad Maia has spent nearly 13 hours on court in reaching the last four, more than twice as long as Swiatek, who she beat in their only previous meeting in Toronto last summer.

The 27-year-old is a late bloomer having struggled with injuries and then served a 10-month doping ban – she successfully argued she had inadvertently taken a banned substance in a contaminated supplement – and this is her first time beyond the second round of a slam.

Haddad Maia said: “I think a tennis match is like a marathon. It’s not a 100 metres race. I think one of my qualities is that I wait and I’m very patient and I never give up.”

It was a disappointing loss for seventh seed Jabeur, who seemed in control of the match until the second-set tie-break.

The Tunisian managed to be happy for her opponent, though, saying: “She’s a beast and I wish her all the best. I feel like my story and her story are a little bit similar. I’m very happy for her and for Brazil, and hopefully she can do much more for her country.”

Jabeur is now targeting a first slam title at Wimbledon having lost in the final last summer.

“I’m hoping to go and get the title really in Wimbledon,” she said. “I’m dreaming about it. It’s something that I always wanted.”

Carlos Alcaraz is relishing the chance to take on Novak Djokovic for a place in the French Open final, according to his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero.

The hotly-anticipated clash will take place at Roland Garros on Friday after both moved through to the last four without dropping a set.

It is a fascinating battle of the generations, with 36-year-old Djokovic chasing a record-breaking 23rd grand slam title and Alcaraz, 16 years his junior, a second.

Ferrero knows what it takes to win on the Parisian clay having lifted the title in 2003 and he feels his man is ready to topple Djokovic.

“I think both players are maybe the best in the world right now,” said the Spaniard.

“Novak has the experience to play these kind of matches more than Carlos, of course, but, at the same time, Carlos really wants to play that match. He was really looking forward to that match since the beginning.

“Of course, he had to play match by match and we were very patient about it. But I think he is ready.

“He practised for these kind of matches. He practises for these kind of moments to be there and try to make history step by step.

“He wants to do it but of course we really know that Novak is going to give absolutely his best. I think he is going to fight until the last ball and he is going to prepare for the match as well as we can do.

“So we expect a really tough and close match. Carlos believes a lot in himself and he believes that he can beat Novak.”

That belief has been evident since the moment Alcaraz burst onto the global stage.

He swatted aside Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals on Tuesday evening with a display of all-court brilliance.

He can take confidence, meanwhile, from having beaten Djokovic in their only previous match, on clay in Madrid last spring, when he also defeated Rafael Nadal.

“He dreams very big about what he can do, so I think it’s one of the most important things that he believes in himself and that he believes that he can go to the court and win against everybody,” said Ferrero.

The pair have worked together since September 2018 and it has proved the dream partnership so far, with Ferrero helping the 20-year-old to hone his incredible natural talents.

“I’m impressed obviously about his level, but I’m with him now almost five years, so I know the level he’s able to play,” said the former world number one.

“So in that way, I’m not impressed at all because I know that he can play like this. The most impressive thing for me is that he is showing his best level against the best. That’s the most important thing.”

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