When Casper Ruud went to the net, he smiled. “I’m glad to have been a part of your story too,” the Norwegian said, shaking hands with his opponent. Novak Djokovic then shook Ruud’s shoulder slightly, then patted him on the chest and also laughed heartily as the TV camera captured it. It was a special moment for both of them, even though Ruud is only a footnote in tennis annals.
Djokovic had reached the final in Rome with a 6: 4, 6: 3 success against the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who had defeated Alexander Zverev 4: 6, 6: 3, 6: 3. In his 55th final in a Masters tournament, he also won his 38th title with 6: 0, 7: 6 (5). On the ATP Tour, it was his 125th participation in the final, these are hard to grasp numbers that were even superimposed by an extraordinary value on Saturday night. When Djokovic entered the midfield again after the match to applause from the many spectators, a cake was already waiting for him. It said “1000” in red letters. Brilliantly, he thanked everyone who had helped him reach this “milestone”. 1000 victories as a professional, only four colleagues had previously achieved this sphere among men, Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Rafael Nadal.
“I saw Roger and Rafa reach those milestones,” Djokovic said, admitting, “I was also looking forward to reaching 1000.” As you know, these three professionals in particular maintain a very special rivalry with each other, which is intensified most in the battle for most Grand Slam titles, where the end result is still open. Djokovic and Federer each have 20 trophies in this category, Nadal has reached number 21 with his spectacular victory in January at the Australian Open after a long injury hiatus. But as both Nadal and Djokovic presented themselves in Rome, there could be a draw at the top again at the upcoming French Open in Paris. Much speaks for Djokovic again.
Rafael Nadal even talks indirectly about the end of his career
Nadal had finished his quarterfinal against Canadian Denis Shapovalov in Rome, but there was an obvious break in his game. At 2: 2, 0:30 in the third set, he took a short break with a painful glance at the edge of the page. He lost 6-2 without a fight and later declared, “I’m not injured, I’m a player living with an injury.”
Nadal suffers from Müller-Weiss syndrome, a cartilage in the left scaphoid. Since he was back on the field this season, the foot has caused him major problems, Nadal explained, even indirectly addressing a possible imminent end to his career, stressing: “I think there will come a time when my head tells me: enough is enough.” On Wednesday, Nadal plans to travel to Paris, it is still unclear if he can fight for his 14th Roland Garros victory. Federer will not return until after his knee injury before the autumn, at the Laver Cup and the ATP tournament in Basel, where he will be 41 years old.
Djokovic, meanwhile, is literally bursting with energy these days, which is reflected in his play and also in his impulsive cheers on the pitch. Earlier this year, the failed attempt to enter Australia when he was eventually expelled from the country by the court as an unvaccinated person had brought him off balance. Suddenly, he, the dominant player in 2021, could not play for the title, but had to watch. Also in the United States, he was initially unable to attend the Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami because even then it was not possible to get in there as unvaccinated. Surprisingly, he parted ways with Marian Vajda, his longtime coach, friend and companion. Goran Ivanisevic is now the only responsible coach on his team. The first four months of this season have not been pleasant for Djokovic.
In Monte Carlo he returned on the tour, but immediately lost to the young Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, in Belgrade then in the final against the Russian Andrei Rublyov and then complained about being physically broken. Already in Madrid, where he narrowly lost to Spanish promoter Carlos Alcaraz, 19, in an intense semi-final duel, he seemed more fit. And in Rome he shone as at his best, as a ballet dancer he also made the incomparable splits on the baseline in rescue operations. “I’m getting closer to the level I’re hoping for every week,” he said contentedly, “it’s going in the right direction.”