Djokovic moves to 23 grand slams while Swiatek overcomes stern Muchova challenge

Court Philippe Chatrier from the Skybar
Despite predictable champions, Roland Garros 2023 was another tournament to remember in Paris | Crosscourt View

We leave Paris having watched both singles favourites succeed in their respective quests.

Novak Djokovic lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the third time after a straight sets victory over Casper Ruud in Sunday’s final. In doing so, the 36-year-old is now the all-time men’s leader in total singles grand slams with 23, and halfway towards another calendar grand slam attempt.

In the women’s event, Iga Swiatek successfully defended her title though she was made to work by an inspired Karolina Muchova. The Pole now has four career majors, three of them picked up at the Bois de Boulogne.

With the main headlines out of the way, here are a few of the talking points that caught my eye at Roland Garros 2023.

Ageless Excellence

It really is difficult to believe how well Novak Djokovic is playing right now. Aged 36 and with injury niggles that disrupted his clay court schedule, the Serb still corralled all of his technical, physical and mental abilities to win here yet again.

In beating an improved Casper Ruud, Djokovic arguably secured his greatest accolade to date with his new status as the men’s all-time singles grand slam leader with 23 titles, one clear of the stricken Rafael Nadal.

While Djokovic could have secured the title with the Spaniard present, it was a hell of a lot easier without the 14-time champion in the way. Apart from the dropped set against Karen Khachanov, the biggest threat to the Serb came from Carlos Alcaraz but nervous cramps sadly derailed the 20-year-old.

In the final, after a mammoth opening set where Ruud truly challenged Djokovic, the 36-year-old persevered as he so often does and then charged away from his opponent. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Djokovic was just too good. Unfortunately for the men’s tour, just a few weeks away from Wimbledon, I can’t see anyone stopping him there either.

In the final, after a mammoth opening set where Ruud truly challenged Djokovic, the 36-year-old persevered as he so often does and then charged away from his opponent. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Djokovic was just too good. Unfortunately for the men’s tour, just a few weeks away from Wimbledon, I can’t see anyone stopping him there either.

Indomitable Iga

Firstly, how great to have a competitive, tense women’s final where you weren’t sure who would lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Second, Iga Swiatek has shown that she can win a major final playing below her best.

After a relatively comfortable progression through the draw, and a straightforward first set, the world no.1 was finally challenged at Roland Garros 2023. Muchova was able to take time away from Swiatek, and made serious dents in the Pole's armour.

Despite losing the second set amid frustration with her serve in particular, the 22-year-old embraced the struggle and persevered in the end as great champions do. When Muchova faltered at the end of the third set, Swiatek immediately pounced.

Swiatek’s perfect grand slam final record lies intact and her Roland Garros aura has only grown. She now sits alongside Hana Mandlikova, Kim Clijsters and Naomi Osaka on four career majors.

Swiatek's next challenge: make a real impression at Wimbledon.

Casper's Steady Progress

A very talented player and extremely good guy, it was pleasing to see the Norwegian give a better account of his talents after last year’s Chatrier shellacking. However, despite excellent efforts in sets one and three, we still saw a straight sets victory for Djokovic.

However, the runner-up may take solace in the route that Dominic Thiem endured at grand slam finals. The Austrian started with three straight losses before eventual triumph at Flushing Meadows in 2020.

Ruud is too resilient, athletic and talented to avoid future grand slam contention. The question will be: can he successfully improve/cloak the weaknesses in his game, or will he have to wait until all of the Big Three exit the stage?

The Muchova-sance

While the Czech just came up short in the final, she was the most impressive player at the event in many respects. After a series of injury issues last year that could have brought retirement, Muchova glistened in the Paris sunshine.

Her entrancing blend of powerful strokes, deft touch, variety and athleticism proved too much for the world no.8 Maria Sakkari, the 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and the reigning Australian Open champion and world no.2 Aryna Sabalenka.

Muchova also became the first woman to take a set off Swiatek in a grand slam final and was oh so close to an upset. Given the 26-year-old’s ambition and talent, let’s hope that her body acquiesces going forward.

Unsettled Alcaraz

After a highly impressive run through to the last four, including a demolition job on poor Stefanos Tsitsipas, I did not foresee nervous cramps as the culprit for the world no.1’s exit.

With so much hype and excitement, it’s a great pity that the semi-final with Djokovic failed to deliver. However, the level of tennis on display in the second set was mind boggling. I hope it’s just an appetiser for a proper epic between the top two at Wimbledon or the US Open.

Mixed Event For Aryna

One wonders what the Belarusian will take from Roland Garros 2023?

On the one hand, the world no.2 recorded her best result to date in Paris with a semi-final run. However, the manner of her implosion from 5-2 up in the final set against Muchova must leave some sort of mental scarring.

Always a congenial personality, Sabalenka also struggled to strike the right note when questioned about her views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s an extremely difficult topic to navigate, particularly for a prominent Belarusian athlete, but a clearer response early on may have saved her the unwanted scrutiny.

Alexander The Great (Again)

It’s taken a year but the German finally looks like himself after that horrible ankle injury in the 2022 semis. While Zverev got dispatched by a rampant Ruud this time out, he should take encouragement from five wins at this level including solid victories over Grigor Dimitrov and Frances Tiafoe. Expect the 26-year-old to play a significant role on the North American hard courts.

Tsitsipas-t it?

Obviously, I’m not writing off the 24-year-old world no.5 but that headline was too enjoyable to ignore!

That said, the Greek must have suffered a severe wound to his confidence after THAT defeat to Alcaraz. While Tsitsipas fought well in the third set, he was shockingly outclassed in the first two. It’s one thing to receive a lesson from the Big Three, but it must hurt to be so brutally exposed by a man four years your junior. Clearly behind Alcaraz in the pecking order, Holger Rune could bypass Tsitsipas swiftly if he stagnates.

Further Night Moves Required

After last year’s event, due to a number of issues with the scheduling of night sessions, I proposed an earlier start time, two matches for fairness, or cheaper tickets.

12 months on, the tournament organisers did bring matches forward by half an hour but the other issues remained.

Ticket prices should still be cheaper given the relative value of three matches for a day session versus one at night. Beyond the allure of seeing Djokovic or Alcaraz, is it really worth paying €70 plus to see a straight sets win for Zverev or Jannik Sinner?

Like last year, there was only one women’s match chosen (Sabalenka vs Stephens on Day 8) from 10 opportunities. While there has been reporting that hundreds of spectators returned their tickets when the WTA match was announced, only two of the men’s matches lasted longer than three sets so is the value sufficient?

While there can be a great atmosphere at the evening sessions, it looks like the ingredients are still not right to get the best mix.