Roland-Garros – Nadal – Ruud: Only a novice can now prevent the return of the king

The context

On the eve of the launch of this Roland-Garros 2022, it was not easy to imagine such a poster to conclude it. Because if Casper Ruud has asserted himself over the past two years as one of the most solid earthlings on the circuit, he had so far not broken through in the Grand Slam. The knockout stages were his glass ceiling and in Paris he had never made it past the third round. As for Rafael Nadal, if his extraordinary background pleaded in his favor, we even wondered if he would be able to participate in the tournament, given the worrying state of his left foot.

The fortnight first changed everything and first of all for the Norwegian. He first knew how to resist and then impose his law on a boosted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the last match of his career, distinguishing himself by his great class to pay tribute to him. Then, above all, he exorcised his ghosts of the 2021 edition – defeat on the wire after an anthology match against Davidovich Fokina – in the 3rd round by disposing of Lorenzo Sonego in extremis. Once this lock broke, he approached the second part of the tournament more liberated.

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And Casper Ruud was able to do what Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev, both out in the round of 16, were unable to: assume his status as seeded 8. Until the half, whether against Hubert Hurkacz, the young and talented Holger Rune or against Marin Cilic, he was the favorite and showed it on the court. He who hoped to finally reach a quarter-final in the Grand Slam, so here he is already in the final. What’s more, facing the living legend of the tournament Rafael Nadal who has added new pages to his myth in this 2022 edition.

Despite his lack of preparation and his sore foot, the Mallorcan used the first week to regain his confidence. Then, he passed a first major test against Félix Auger-Aliassime, the third man to push him after five sets at Roland. But above all, he still amazed his world with his physical resistance and his ability to suddenly raise his level to beat the defending champion and world number 1 Novak Djokovic. From then on, he regained his status as always, that of a man to beat at Roland. And the misfortunes of Alexander Zverev brought him closer to the Grail.

Loth: ‘I have a feeling that Nadal will win this tournament and say goodbye’

Face to face

It’s simple: this Roland-Garros final will be the first duel between Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud. The two men only faced each other in training in the Majorcan academy, which won most of the sets thus disputed according to the Norwegian.

Their journeys

Rafael Nadal

1st round: Defeats Jordan Thompson [AUS] 6-2, 6-2, 6-2
2nd round: defeats Corentin Moutet [FRA/W] 6-3, 6-1, 6-4
3rd round: defeats Botic van de Zandschulp [P-B/N.26] 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
1/8th final: defeats Félix Auger-Aliassime [CAN/N.9] 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
1/4 final: beat Novak Djokovic [SER/N.1] 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4)
1/2 final: defeated on abandonment Alexander Zverev [ALL/N.3] 7-6(8), 6-6ab.

Casper Ruud

1st round: defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [FRA/W] 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-2, 7-6(0)
2nd round: defeats Emil Ruusuvuori [FIN] 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
3rd round: defeats Lorenzo Sonego [ITA/N.32] 6-2, 6-7(3), 1-6, 6-4, 6-3
1/8th final: defeats Hubert Hurkacz [POL/N.12] 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
1/4 final: beats Holger Rune [DAN] 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3
1/2 final: defeats Marin Cilic [CRO/N.20] 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2

“Ruud does everything Rafa does but a little less well”

They said

Rafael Nadal : “I have immense respect for Casper. First of all he’s a friend, he has a great character and he’s a good guy and that’s the most important thing. And as a player, he has done great things in the last two years. He is number 8 in the world, right? The ranking speaks for itself.

Casper Ruud:I could tell you all of Rafa’s finals and who he beat each time, because I watched them all on TV. It will be fantastic to find myself in the place of players like Puerta, Federer, Djokovic, Thiem or even Wawrinka, all those who faced him in the final. Being part of this group is something I can boast about after my career.

Three stats to remember

0. Casper Ruud has not faced a single member of the Top 10 before this final. For his part, Rafael Nadal beat three: Félix Auger-Aliassime, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev. The Mallorcan is also 31 victories against the Top 10 at Roland-Garros for… two defeats (against Djokovic in the quarter of the 2015 tournament, then in the half in 2021).

The killer stat: Ruud, a course without a Top 10 but a colossal challenge in the final

36. In the event of a coronation on Sunday, Rafael Nadal would become the oldest champion in the history of Roland-Garros. If Casper Ruud were titled, he would be at 23 the youngest Grand Slam winner since Juan Martin del Potro (20) at the US Open in 2009.

6. Rafael Nadal has spent a total of 6 tiny minutes more than Casper Ruud on the court since the start of the fortnight. The two men scrapped at 6:08 p.m. and 6:02 p.m. respectively, thus providing a comparable effort. Their state of freshness should therefore be “the same”, even if the Norwegian is 13 years younger.

Our opinion

Let’s not cut corners: when Rafael Nadal plays the Roland-Garros final, he wins it. It’s happened 13 times in the past, and the result was the same every time. Better: the Majorcan has never been pushed after five sets in a title match, not even conceding a single set six times (2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2020). To qualify him as a favorite before this match is to push an open door.

The magnitude of the task facing Casper Ruud is therefore immense. And to tell the truth, he is the first to know since he felt that it looked like “an impossible mission”. Tennistically, the Norwegian does everything very well on clay with his forehand lift in particular, so much so that Marin Cilic called him a “right-handed Nadal”. But the real Nadal does it even better. And the Norwegian does not have the power of a Zverev to force the Majorcan to play on the heels.

Only the potentially stormy playing conditions with a roof deployed seem likely to disturb the Spaniard who also recognized him after his half against Zverev. This humidity and ambient heaviness put him in (slight) physical difficulty. If he manages to make the match last, then Ruud could see an opportunity. But he will also have to manage the weight of a first Grand Slam final, while Nadal has the 22nd Grand Slam and history in his sights. The ultimate fuel. He shouldn’t miss this golden opportunity.

Our prediction: Rafael Nadal in three sets.

Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2022

Credit: Getty Images

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