Rafa destroys Ruud to win 14th French Open title
Thirty-six-year-old Rafael Nadal defied the odds to claim his 22nd Grand Slam title at the 2022 French Open. He is now two clear of world number one Djokovic and Federer in the men’s race for the most major titles.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal brutally crushed Norway’s Casper Ruud on Sunday, 5 June, to lift a record-extending 14th French Open trophy and increase his lead at the top of the list of men’s Grand Slam champions.
There was a sense of déjà vu as Nadal, who turned 36 on Friday, swept aside Ruud 6-3 6-3 6-0 on a balmy afternoon in Paris. He has won every time he has reached the final at the clay court Grand Slam.
By lifting the Musketeers’ Cup again, Nadal was halfway through the calendar Grand Slam for the first time in his career after he won the year’s opening major at the Australian Open.
Victory gave Nadal a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title and put him two clear of world No 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Swiss Roger Federer in the men’s race for the most major titles.
Similar to his leadup to the Melbourne Park major, Nadal arrived at Roland Garros with persistent fitness doubts after suffering a rib stress fracture and a chronic foot injury.
But Nadal, who passed fellow Spaniard Andres Gimeno as the oldest Roland Garros men’s singles champion, again proved that even at less than 100%, he is still a mountain too steep to conquer on the red clay of Roland Garros.
He got a standing ovation as he walked onto Court Philippe-Chatrier under overcast skies and fans livened up the atmosphere with drums and trumpets. Nadal, who has a statue erected in his honour at the clay court arena in Western Paris, kickstarted the party early for his fans.
Nadal and Ruud had never played a competitive match before Sunday. The duo have hit together plenty of times at the Spaniard’s academy in Mallorca, with Ruud saying he had never won a practice set against his idol.
The record stays the same after Sunday in favour of Nadal, who is 13 years older than Ruud.
Ruud has led the men’s Tour since the start of the 2020 season in clay court wins, finals and titles and was the first man from his country to make a Grand Slam singles final — but he did not have enough in his armoury to challenge Nadal.
Nadal made a blistering start, racing to a 2-0 lead with a superb forehand passing shot securing his first break of Ruud’s serve.
Despite all his experience at the clay court Grand Slam, nerves were still in play for Nadal as he frittered away his early advantage with two unforced errors off his forehand and two double faults.
Nadal’s vicious top-spin forehand, however, soon found its range and he started applying pressure to Ruud’s backhand to secure a break and canter to a 4-1 lead. The Norwegian showed off his much-acclaimed forehand, but it was not enough to stop Nadal from winning the opening set.
Ruud raised his level at the start of the second set, saving three break points to hold serve in the opening game and earn praise from his opponent when he charged down the length of the court to reach a drop shot and turn it into a winner.
Ruud soon broke Nadal to love to take a lead for the first time in the match, but it proved short-lived as Nadal wiped out his advantage in the next game. From 3-1 down, Nadal won the next five games to put himself a set away from victory.
Ruud’s hopes of stretching the contest disappeared quickly with the left-hander now fully in the mood to put on a show, and it was one-way traffic as Nadal reeled off 11 games in a row stretching over the second and third sets.
He put Ruud out of his misery on his second championship point with a backhand winner down the line, ending the contest in two hours and 18 minutes.
“I don’t know what can happen in the future,” Nadal told the crowd at Court Philippe-Chatrier. “I will keep fighting to try to keep going. For me, it is incredible to play here with amazing support from you to me.”
Hanging on for dear life
Nadal found little resistance as Ruud, the world number eight, was too busy battling to hang on for dear life. Thundering groundstrokes moved the Norwegian across the baseline as the Spaniard gave his opponent no chance.
“For me personally it is very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said. “It’s something that I for sure never believed, to be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more final.”
At the final in January’s Australian Open, Nadal came from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev and bag a second title there.
A couple of months earlier, he had been considering retiring after a foot problem that has troubled him throughout his career resurfaced, forcing him to miss much of the 2021 season including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.
He arrived in Paris with his own doctor to get through the tournament.
“Especially in the very tough moments we went through in terms of injuries, if you don’t have great support from the team, nothing of this would happen because I would have retired much before,” Nadal said. Reuters/DM