Rafa Nadal stormed to the French Open title for an unprecedented 14th time to underline one fact which will live on forever: the Spaniard is the true ‘King of Clay’ having reinforced his reputation on the terre battue at Roland Garros with a resounding 6-3 6-3 6-0 win over Casper Ruud.
I don’t know what can happen in the future, but I am going to keep fighting to try and keep going, Rafa Nadal
He is the dominant player of the surface as he swept aside another player who has himself built up a reputation on clay, Norway’s Ruud, with seven of his eight titles won on the surface ranging from Geneva to Buenos Aires.
On this occasion though, the 23-year-old was never in the game as Nadal dominated the final for his 22nd Grand Slam title and extend his lead over both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic by two in the race between the Big Three for Most wins at major level.
Nadal always looked comfortable and when he won the first set, it didn’t seem possible for Ruud to make an impression on the match, but he did at the start of the second by breaking the fifth seed and taking a 3-1 lead.
That blip acted as a trigger, for Nadal then simply went up a gear to roll out 11 successive games to demolishe a bemused opponent playing in his first major championship final.
Ruud could only stand by in admiration at a master at work though it must have been a very chastening experience for the young Norwegian who, during the trophy presentations remarked:
“It’s your 14th time here, 22nd all round in Grand Slams, we all know what a champion you are,” Ruud told him in front of the packed audience on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“Today I got to feel how it is to play you in a final. It’s not easy. I’m not the first victim, I know there have been many before,” he added. “You are a true inspiration for me, for everyone who follows tennis around the world. We all hope you continue for some more time.”
Nadal had been inferring that every match could be the last in his exceptional career but he didn’t confirm or deny that he wouldn’t return to Paris for next year’s event.
“I don’t know what can happen in the future, but I am going to keep fighting to try and keep going,” he said.
For the past few months, he has been ‘fighting’ a foot problem but that didn’t seem to hamper him at all during the fortnight where he had played some lengthy matches in his run to the final, but he has now revealed that he was playing with a numb foot throughout the championship. Apparently, before every match, his foot was injected with some form of pain killers leaving him to play with a numb foot!
Bearing that in mind his comments during the presentation take on a different meaning.
“For me personally, it is very difficult to describe the feelings that I have. It is something that I have never believed. To be here at 36, being competitive again on the most important court of my career,” Nadal said on court. “One more title means a lot. It means a lot of energy to try and keep going.”
He only turned 36 on Friday but won his first French title aged 19 back in 2005, and now celebrates not only his 14th, with a 112-3 win-loss record, with 90 of the 112 victories won in straight sets including 24 bagels, the last on Sunday.
Nadal is now the oldest French Open champion having passed fellow Spaniard Andres Gimeno who set the record 50 years ago.
Ruud added later. “His numbers speak for themselves. He has never lost a final here, and there is a reason why.
“It was the first time I have experienced in this situation and play a Grand Slam final. I don’t think it really got to me until I stepped on court today and saw the full stadium and felt the atmosphere in the crowd.
“It was a little bit, honestly, a bit tough to find myself too comfortable in the situation in the beginning. As the match went on, I tended to feel a little bit better, and I could calm down and breathe out a little bit more.
“But it was challenging because you are playing him, the most winning-slam player ever and on this court in the final,” he went on. “It’s not too easy.”
Nadal, who won the Australian Open in January, is now halfway to winning a Grand Slam (that is claiming all four majors in a calendar year), but there are doubts as to whether he will play Wimbledon which would be his next target, an event he has won twice before.
“It’s not about being the best of the history,” Nadal said as references to who is the GOAT arise again. “It’s not about the records. It’s about I like what I do. I like to play tennis. And I like the competition.
“As I said couple of times in the past and is not a thing that I repeat, is not the thing that I don’t feel for me, we achieved our dreams. Me, Roger, Novak, we achieved things that probably we never expected.
“For me, what drives me to keep going is not about the competition to try to be the best or to win more Grand Slams than the others.
“What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game, live moments that stay inside me forever, and play in front of the best crowds in the world and the best stadiums.
“That drives me, no? And the passion for what I do. Then of course if I don’t feel myself competitive, I don’t enjoy. So that’s it. But is not about the goal about winning more titles. It’s about a goal to give myself a chance to keep doing what I like to do.”
And it is his family which keeps him going.
“I don’t know what I would do in terms of injuries if it wasn’t for the team, my family and everyone around me,” Nadal added on court facing the player’s box.
“I would’ve already retired much before if it wasn’t for you…
“I never believed I would be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more time in a final.
“It means everything to me. It means a lot of energy to try to keep going.”