PARIS – He fooled us again, which in itself is quite an achievement at this stage of the game.
Perhaps Rafael Nadal really means business when he downplays his chances at Roland Garros and there was certainly no forgery in play when he limped through the last set of a preliminary round loss at the Italian Open last month, grimacing and special tired looking grinding and the chronic pain in his left foot.
Nadal indeed found himself in unfamiliar territory returning to his favorite turf, Roland Garros. Early in the tournament, he had very few clay-court games that season and no European clay-court title.
But for Nadal, there is no tonic like Parisian Red Clay. And on Sunday, after working his way through a loaded top half of the draw, he was far too much, even with less than his best, for No. 8-seeded Casper Ruud in the French Open men’s final, who finished 6th : 3 won. 6-3, 6-0 in a game that lasted 2 hours and 18 minutes.
The win secured Nadal his 14th men’s singles title at the tournament, extending his French Open record that looks more unbeatable with each spring.
He also extended his lead in the Majors three-way race with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Nadal now has a men’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles, two more than Djokovic, whom Nadal defeated here in the quarterfinals, and Federer, who is still recovering from his last knee surgery at the age of 40.
Sunday’s triumph with Billie Jean King and King Felipe VI. of Spain made Nadal the oldest man to win the French Open at 36, surpassing his compatriot Andrés Gimeno who won the title in 1972 at the age of 34.
So many records. So much enduring excellence, and Ruud, an affable 23-year-old Norwegian, certainly needed no reminder of his opponent’s performances as he stepped onto the Philippe Chatrier Court as the first Norwegian to play in a Grand Slam singles final.
Ruud, who broke into the top 10 last year, had two big role models as he emerged from a nation better known for holding his own on snow than sand. There was his father Christian, who coached him and ranked No. 39 as a tour-level player in 1995. And there was Nadal with his extreme topspin forehand and ingrained willingness to fight.
He began training regularly with his team at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca, Spain, in 2018, even playing – and losing – training sets against Nadal.
He has also played golf with Nadal and thought he was looking forward to a more relaxed experience, only to discover that Nadal’s competitive streak wasn’t limited to the tennis court.
But Sunday was Ruud’s first chance to face Nadal on tour.
“We all know what a champion you are and today I realized what it’s like to play against you in the final,” Ruud told the crowd after the game. “It’s not easy, I’m not the first victim.”
And that was before the final. He certainly hasn’t changed his mind now.