Nadal: 'This means everything'

Spaniard rolls Norwegian No.8 seed Ruud to capture a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022, final, trophy© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

A defiant Rafael Nadal has scripted one of his finest Roland-Garros triumphs, denying Casper Ruud to land his 14th Coupe des Mousquetaires.

A new chapter was added to the most prolific reign on Court Philippe-Chatrier as the Spaniard prevailed 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 over the 23-year-old first-time Grand Slam finalist.

At 36, Nadal became the oldest men’s champion in Paris.

He eclipsed his late compatriot Andres Gimeno’s mark from 50 years ago and elevated his haul on the sport’s biggest stages to 22 majors, two clear of his nearest rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

“Without a doubt for me and I think for a lot of people who love the history of this sport, this is the best tournament of the world… You make me feel like home,” Nadal said.

“For me personally, it’s very difficult to describe the feelings that I have. It’s something that I’ve for sure never believed being here at 36, being competitive again playing on the most important court of my career one more time in a final.

“It means a lot to me, it means everything. It means a lot of energy to try to keep going. I don’t know what can happen in the future but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going.”

Ruud had waxed lyrical about his idol ahead of their title match and boasted of being able to name at will, every one of Nadal’s previous victims from 13 finals in Paris.

While overawed in two hours and 18 minutes, he was far from disgraced.

“It’s your 14th time here, 22nd all round in Grand Slams, we all know what a champion you are,” Ruud said during the trophy ceremony.

“Today I got to feel how it is to play you in a final. It’s not easy. I’m not the first victim, I know there have been many before… You are a true inspiration for me, for everyone who follows tennis around the world. We all hope you continue for some more time.”

On the eve of the final, coach Carlos Moya said if his charge prevailed on Sunday it stood as his greatest Grand Slam run, surpassing even his surprise Australian Open title in January.

It was a sign of how challenging it had been for the No.5 seed just to take his place in the draw, having struggled with a chronic left foot issue on and off since last year’s semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic.

A rib stress fracture in March left him racing against the clock, while only last month he limped to a round of 16 defeat against Denis Shapovalov in Rome, casting further doubts over his Roland-Garros campaign.

Casper Ruud, Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, Finale, Julien Crosnier / FFT

Untested until the fourth round, the Spaniard needed more than four hours to hold off Felix Auger-Aliassime before a momentous four-hour victory over defending champion Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

In the semi-finals, he battled third seed Alexander Zverev for some three hours before injury ended the German’s chances deep in the second set.

They were ultimately his three toughest battles of the campaign.

With King Felipe VI of Spain and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway watching side by side from the front, Nadal did not toil for long to make inroads, unfurling a forehand pass on the run for an early 2-0 lead.

Looking to become the first Norwegian Grand Slam champion in the Open Era, Ruud needed to change it up. A forehand drop shot winner executed to perfection was a rare anomaly amid Nadal’s ruthless dominance from on top of the baseline.

After 29 minutes the Spaniard had climbed to 4-1 and closing fast on the opening set.

Heavier baseline blows from Ruud were rewarded early as he served to stay in it and a bold foray to the net paid off when he picked a backhand volley winner off his shoelaces.

The only real scare of the first set came on set point when the Norwegian misfired wide, sending chair umpire James Keothavong swerving for cover.

Ruud amped up his aggression and pounced on a sloppy game from Nadal to secure a 3-1 advantage in the second set.

But it was never sustained as Nadal bullied his opponent’s backhand to reel off five straight games; a two-set lead landed on Ruud’s first double fault.

While the pair had never clashed on tour before, there were few secrets between them, given the fact Ruud has been practising at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, since 2018.

Before the final, Ruud cheekily claimed he had barely taken a set in any of the pair’s practice sessions at the academy so as not to be an unwelcome guest.

While more than welcome to step in and challenge the Spaniard at his home away from home, it would ultimately do little to shake the status quo.

The first man to claim four top-10 victims at a Slam since Roger Federer’s 2017 Australian Open title run, Nadal motored through the final set.

A fan decked out in Nadal’s green and gold kit, jangling a t-shirt with a caricature of former champion Guga Kuerten rose as the inevitable approached.

So, too, a supporter in a pink inflatable flamingo, who bellowed his idol’s name.

Trumpets sounded the final call as one final unanswered backhand – a 37th winner of the match – ensured he had claimed the opening two majors of the season for the first time in his career.

It was left to the great Billie Jean King to hand the Spaniard another reminder of his latest slice of history and to Nadal to sign off with a declaration there was more to come.

Casper Ruud, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, Finale, Clement Mahoudeau / FFT