Novak Djokovic aims for a historic 23rd Grand Slam against Casper Ruud

(CNN) — For years, the ‘Big Three’ of men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have won Grand Slams, each with their own reasons for being crowned the greatest men’s player of all time.

Now, with Federer retired and Nadal injured, Djokovic has a chance to claim his own right in this endless debate and win a record 23 Grand Slam titles on Sunday at Roland Garros, surpassing the mark he currently holds under Nadal.

Casper Ruud stands in the way of Djokovic, who has now reached three of the last five Grand Slam finals, including last year’s final at Roland Garros, where he was beaten 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 by Nadal .

If Djokovic wins on Sunday, he will also return to the top of the world rankings and become the first male player to win every Grand Slam at least three times. This pressure, however, is familiar to the Serb, he said after his semi-final win.

“History is always something that weighs on me, but I’m very happy to be in this position to write the history of this sport,” he said, according to ATP Tour. “I just think about winning the next game.”

“The pressure is still on my shoulders, so it won’t be any different. But it’s part of my sport, part of my life, part of everything I do. I think the pressure is a privilege. But it is also a source of motivation. Great motivation to play well and get to Sunday,” he added.

Novak Djokovic beat Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.
Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images

The road to the final was relatively easy for Djokovic, as he lost only two sets: one against Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals and another against the No. 1 seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.

This match against Alcaraz had been billed as a classic, but in the end Djokovic took the win after the young Spaniard suffered from a cramp at the start of the third set, with the game eventually heading towards one set apiece.

The Serb has been imperious at Grand Slams for the past three years, a loss to Nadal at Roland Garros last year the only blemish in any major tournaments he has been able to take part in.

But lining up against such a dominant player is a familiar position for Ruud, as he faces an opponent looking to beat or extend his record total of Grand Slam titles for the second straight year.

“Last year it was against Rafa, this year it’s against Novak, so what can you say? They’re two of the toughest players ever,” Ruud said after his semi-final victory , according to The Guardian.

The 24-year-old Norwegian hasn’t even won a set against Djokovic, losing all four matches, and that stat guarantees he will enter the court as an underdog, although he can now rely on the experience of two previous Grand Slam finals.

Casper Ruud was beaten by Nadal in the French Open final last year. Lisi Niesner/Reuters

“It will be tough for sure,” Ruud said, according to the ATP Tour. “He will be playing for his 23rd. I am playing for my first. So I will try to play without pressure and just try to enjoy the moment.”

“I think that was also my mentality last year (against Nadal), and it didn’t work for me. Obviously, I would like to try to do better than last year. Let’s see if I learned something from the previous two (Grand Slam finals) I played in last year. It’s great to be back,” he said.

Although he entered the tournament after a mixed start to the season, Ruud found his form, prevailing for the first time against a top-10 player at a Grand Slam by defeating Holger Rune in the quarter-finals and eliminating Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals.

This semi-final performance will propel Ruud ahead of the final as he looks to beat the odds and clinch his first Grand Slam title.

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