What if the Roland-Garros final had been played in the corridors leading to the Philippe-Chatrier center court? The idea has been on the web since a video has been circulating showing Nadal and Ruud before they enter the arena with attitudes … to say the least different.
When taking the microphone to congratulate his executioner for the Roland-Garros final on Sunday, Casper Ruud seemed almost relieved that his ordeal was over. Facing Rafael Nadal in the final, especially on clay in Paris, is never a trivial experience. We never come out unscathed, neither mentally nor physically. It’s always taxing, both for body and soul. “I understood what it means to play you here, in the final”, admitted the Norwegian after the meeting, finally smiling again.
Because during the meeting, the 6th player in the world never managed to free himself completely, to drop the mask of torpor to show himself in his best light, crushed by the pressure of a first final in a Grand Slam tournament and the weight of history represented by the 13 titles (then finally 14) of the bull of Manacor, which was agitated on the other side of the net.
“The match was played before entering the court”
Just as nervous and above all very fragile physically, Nadal is a past master in the art of maintaining an average level of play high enough to hold off his opponents in his garden, and raise it at the appropriate time. Even when he’s in trouble. For at least a set and a half, the Mallorcan did not play better than his opponent, far from it, he was however less feverish in important moments.
And this psychological battle may have been played out before the entry of the two players on the court. The footage has been doing the rounds on social media since the start of the day. We see the Mallorcan, true to his habits, imposing his warm-up ritual on his opponent, looking a little confused, almost embarrassed to be there. And if Casper Ruud occasionally glances at his opponent, Nadal pays absolutely no attention to what is happening around him.
In his bubble, the Spaniard connects the sprints, mimics forehands. In short, he is preparing for a fight. A real demonstration of strength and commitment. The match has not yet started, but Nadal makes it clear to his opponent that he will leave feathers there, that the battle will be long if he hopes to win.
No one will perhaps ever know if the Norwegian, who had never met his idol before a match, was intimidated by his opponent, but for Paul-Henri Mathieu, who knows Nadal well for having seriously jostled him in 2006, there is no doubt: “The match was played before entering the court.”