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French Open final: Rafael Nadal seeks record-extending 22nd Grand Slams title, Casper Ruud eyes first major


Rafael Nadal will look to extend his lead over Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer with a 22nd Grand Slam title when the 13-time Roland Garros champion takes on 23-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway in the men’s final at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Nadal and Ruud have never met in an official match but have played many practice sets against each other at the Spaniard’s tennis academy in Mallorca because the Norwegian youngster has been training there for a few years. Ruud considers Nadal his idol and recalls watching the Spaniard’s past French Open finals on TV.

NADAL MEETS RUUD

At 36, Nadal would be vying to become the oldest champion in French Open history, whereas Ruud, who is 23 and appearing in his first major final, would be looking to be the first man from Norway to win any Grand Slam singles title.

Nadal, whose birthday was Friday, is the second-oldest man to get to the title match in Paris; Don Budge was 37 when he was the runner-up in 1930. The oldest champion in tournament history was Andres Gimeno, 34 when he won in 1972.

“It’s not about things that you need to prove. It’s about how much you enjoy doing what you are doing — or, if you don’t enjoy it, then it’s another story,” said Nadal, who advanced when his semifinal opponent, third-seeded Alexander Zverev, needed to stop playing late in the second set after hurting his right ankle.

“But if you like what you are doing, you keep going. … I keep playing because I like what I do. So that’s it,” Nadal continued. “Of course I enjoy (it). And if I am healthy enough to play, I like the competition, honestly.”

“I like to play in the best stadiums in the world and feel myself, at my age, still competitive. Means a lot to me.” Nadal said. “That makes me feel in some way proud and happy about all the work that we did.”

While he is not showing any obvious signs of slowing, the past year or so has not been easy.

“I was not very positive after that about my foot, but I was positive that I will be able to play here. And here I am. I played, I (fought), I did all the things possible to give myself at least a chance to be where I am,” said Nadal, who brought his personal doctor with him to Paris, “and happy, of course, to be able to give myself another chance to play on the (last) Sunday here.”

If Nadal has plenty of past success and “been there, done that” in his favor going into the final, Ruud does have youth on his side. Not to mention an impressive recent track record on clay, with tour highs of 66 match wins and seven titles on the surface since the start of the 2020 season.

“I will need to play my best tennis ever,” said Ruud, who never had been past the fourth round of a major until this week. “But I still have to believe that I can do it.”

Nadal is 13-0 in French Open finals, capturing the trophy in his teens, his 20s, and his 30s — and Ruud was paying close attention.

“I could probably tell you all the finals and who he has played and who he has beaten because I watched them all on TV,” Ruud said, and then proved it by going through a list of the opponents. “To be a part of that group myself is something I can always brag about after my career. I will, of course, give it a shot at the title, and it would be nicer to be able to brag about the title, as well, after my career.”

“He always, pretty much, has always beaten me,” Ruud said with a smile, then joked that, as a guest at the academy, he felt he needed to let his host win.

“This is a special occasion for both of us. He’s playing for his 22nd; I’m playing for my first. Big contrast,” Ruud said. “I’m the underdog, and we will just enjoy the moment.”





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