Rafael Nadal showed he isn’t ready to cede his title of the greatest player on clay, winning his 14th French Open title on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 win over Casper Ruud of Norway.
Two days past his 36th birthday, Nadal became the oldest champion at Roland Garros in Paris. And he showed Ruud, 23, who idolized the Spaniard growing up, just who is the master on clay.
Seven of Ruud’s eight career titles have come on the surface, but Nadal put on a clinic against Ruud as he won his 22nd Grand Slam title, two better than his rivals, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Nadal won the first set, but Ruud shifted the momentum, breaking his opponent’s serve to go up 3-1 in the second. Tested, Nadal shifted into another gear and won five straight games to win the set, breaking Ruud’s serve three times along the way.
Ruud wouldn’t win another game, with Nadal breaking the serve of the deflated youngster three more times in the final set to close the match with 11 consecutive game wins.
In all, Nadal broke Ruud’s serve eight times. He won points on 82 percent of his first serves compared to Ruud, and had 37 winners and 18 unforced errors. Ruud had 16 winners and 26 errors.
Nadal has never lost a French Open final and is 28-1 in semifinals and finals. His record is an astonishing 112-3 at the tournament, and this title came on the 17th anniversary of his first victory at the French Open. In 2005, he defeated Mariano Puerta of Argentina in four sets.
Nadal won the Australian Open in February and now is halfway to winning the season’s Grand Slam. A lingering foot ailment has limited his court time this season, however, and he revealed in his post-match interview that he had frequent injections into a nerve in his left foot while in Paris to numb the pain and allow him to play.
He said he is taking the victories one at a time and will savor this one at Roland Garros.
“For me personally, very difficult to describe the feelings that I have.” Nadal said after being presented with the trophy. “It’s something that for sure I never believed. (To) be here at the 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more time I know means a lot to me now. (It) means everything.”
Nadal said he isn’t sure he will be able to play at Wimbledon, which opens June 27. He is visiting a specialist next week for a foot procedure, that if it doesn’t work, could mean he will need surgery.
“I’m going to be in Wimbledon if my body is ready to be in Wimbledon,” Nadal said. “That’s it. Wimbledon is not a tournament that I want to miss. I think nobody want to miss Wimbledon. I love Wimbledon.”
He said he wouldn’t continue the injections, however.
“I don’t want to put myself in that position again,” he said. “Can happen once, but no, is not a philosophy of life that I want to follow.”
Nadal is a mentor to Ruud, working with him at his tennis academy in Spain. The admiration the two have for each other was obvious in their post-match speeches as they exchanged gracious words.
And Ruud said he knew he was in very good company, joining a list of players Nadal has beaten at Roland Garros that includes all-time greats. Nadal has defeated both Federer and Djokovic four times each.
“We all know what a champion you are, and today I got to feel how it is to play against you in a final,” Ruud said. “It’s not easy. I’m not the first victim. I know there have been many before.”
With his 22 major titles, Nadal tied Steffi Graff for third on the all-time list, men and women combined. Margaret Court of Australia has 24, and Serena Williams has won 23.
–Field Level Media