Ruud: ‘One day I’ll tell my grandkids I played Rafa on Chatrier’

Norwegian walks away from Paris with lots of confidence and cherished memories

Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, final, trophy, Billie Jean King© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Stephanie Livaudais

Casper Ruud knew what he would be up against when he faced Rafael Nadal for the first time on Court Philippe-Chatrier – perhaps better than most.

The 23-year-old Norwegian calls the King of Clay his childhood hero and one of his biggest inspirations in tennis, and as a fan, he’s celebrated many Nadal victories on the terre battue.

He’s also gotten to share the practice court with him several times while training at the Rafa Nadal Academy. 

But all of that went out the window on Sunday afternoon, as the 36-year-old romped past Ruud in straight sets to lift a record-extending 14th Roland-Garros trophy.

Having been on the receiving end of the 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 rout, Ruud confirmed for himself what most in the sport already know to be true: defeating Nadal in five sets on Chatrier is still the toughest challenge in all of tennis.

“I said before the match that I guess it is, but now I think I know it is,” Ruud told press after the match. “So at least what I have faced, it's really challenging and really tough. His numbers speak for themselves. He has never lost a final here, and there is a reason why.

“Like I said in the [runner-up] speech, I'm just another one of the victims that he has destroyed on this court in the final,” he added, smiling.

Casper Ruud, Rafael Nadal, finale Roland-Garros 2022©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Seizing his opportunity

The first man from his country to ever feature in a Grand Slam final, Ruud’s run at Roland-Garros marked a historic moment for Norwegian tennis. Even the country’s Crown Prince Haakon was in the stands, sitting alongside Spain’s King Felipe VI in the Royal Box.

The 23-year-old had been rock-solid all fortnight long, handling every challenge with his signature cool head and calm demeanor.

“What I can say that I was able to do well these two weeks, was to take care of the chances I got and [seize] the opportunity,” Ruud said.

He had landed in the ‘half of opportunity’ in the men’s draw, away from the stacked section which featured Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz.

“I kind of realised early this is a good chance to maybe go far, if I'm playing well and that there can be chances for me. I was able to take care of those chances.”

A challenging journey

The No.8 seed started the tournament by sending beloved Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga into retirement, and had to overcome a stern challenge from No.32 seed Lorenzo Sonego in five sets in the third round. He recorded his best Grand Slam result after defeating No.12 seed Hubert Hurkacz in the fourth round.

Along the way, Ruud also had to face a couple of his Nordic neighbours in the form of Emil Ruusuvuori in the second round and Holger Rune in the quarter-finals, dispatching them both with confident wins. He then took down a resurgent Marin Cilic with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 comeback to reach the final

Ruud was charging full steam ahead in his quest to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open – and his bid to become the first player ever to defeat Nadal on a second Sunday in Paris.

But he admitted that nerves played a part during the final, especially after failing to capitalise on his chances at the beginning of the first and second sets. Having held a brief 3-1 lead in the second set, Ruud didn’t win another game as the Spaniard reeled off the next 11 to close out the victory.

“It was the first time I have experienced [being] in this situation and play a Grand Slam final. I don't think it really got to me until I stepped on court today and saw the full stadium and felt the atmosphere in the crowd,” Ruud revealed.

“It was a little bit, honestly, a bit tough to find myself too comfortable in the situation in the beginning. As the match went on, I tended to feel a little bit better and I could calm down and breathe out a little bit more.

“But it was challenging because you are playing him, the most winning-slam player ever and on this court in the final… It's not too easy.”

Rafa might rule in Paris once again, but Ruud was still upbeat after the crushing defeat. The Norwegian will depart Paris with a newfound self-confidence in his abilities, and will debut at a new career-high world No.6 when the ATP rankings are unveiled on Monday.

More importantly, Ruud said, he’ll also walk away with unforgettable memories of a dream Roland-Garros final played against his greatest hero.

“Of course, I wish I could make the match closer and all these things,” he reflected. “But at the end of the day, I can hopefully one day tell my grandkids that I played Rafa on Chatrier in the final. They will probably say, ‘Wow, did you?’ I will say, ‘Yes’.

“I'm probably going to enjoy this moment for a long time.”

Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, final© Loïc Wacziak/FFT