In just under an hour and a half, Rafael Nadal produced a clay-court masterclass to defeat debutant finalist Casper Ruud in straight sets to lift his record-extending 22nd Grand Slam and 14th French Open title. The Spaniard’s dominant display was yet another showing of its trademark mixture of smart tactics and ruthless shot-making.
Ruud’s backhand fails to cope
Coping with Nadal’s forehand anywhere is a difficult task, let alone on the red dirt at Roland Garros. The shot goes into the opposing right-hander’s backhand corner with so much spin and bounce that it makes the ball feel like a rock on the racquet. Ultimately, it performed to be one that Ruud was not able to negotiate with much success.
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The Norwegian found no purchase on his backhand, was unable to adjust it as well as his forehand, therefore needing to move far behind the baseline or take the ball to cope with Nadal’s crosscourt forehand. The Spaniard realized this early and actively targeted that wing, even choosing to go down-the-line with his own backhand to expose his opponent on that shot. The tactic played a big role in the 36-year-old gaining an early foothold in the match and flying out of the gates.
Only four of the 16 winners that Ruud hit all match came from the backhand, none of which were groundstrokes, and only one of which came in the first set. Fifteen of his 23 forced errors in the match were also on the backhand, illustrating Nadal’s dominance in the crosscourt exchanges.
Tact and tenacity
Court Philippe Chatrier is adorned with a quote from Roland Garros, the aviator and first World War fighter after whom the French Open venue is named, stating: “Victory belongs to the most tenacious.” Nadal’s record-breaking 14 titles on that very court are nothing if not a testament to that.
On Sunday, the Spaniard opened the second set a bit sluggish, squandering a few break-point opportunities in the first game before losing his own serve and going into a 1-3 deficit. There on, Nadal won 11 games in a row to round out the final, and while the depth of his groundstrokes, his tactics, shot placement and deft touch were all on display, his tenacity played a big part in the dominant display.
Ruud was forced to play a near-perfect shot – sometimes multiple times in a rally – to win even a single point against the Spaniard. With the dry conditions under the Paris sunshine playing right into his hands, Nadal made Ruud work twice as hard as he would have to against anyone else to prevail from the baseline, exhausting him point after point.
Barring an exceptional first serve, the Norwegian was sparsely gifted a cheap point, and Nadal’s 14 winners to four unforced errors in the 30-minute-long final set – in which Ruud won a grand total of eight points – are proof of the unbelievable level of tennis and persistence he was operating at.
Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros will throw up a number of impressive records – 14 French Opens, oldest men’s singles Roland Garros champion, 22 Grand Slam titles, one of only two men (the other is Roger Federer at the 2017 Australian Open) to win a Major by defeating four top 10 players, and presumably many more. But for a man who played a majority of a Grand Slam by taking anesthetic injections to numb the pain of a chronic foot injury, Nadal proves yet again that his greatest attribute will always be his tenacity.