Rafael Nadal started his 14th French Open final in fine style, breaking Casper Ruud in the Norwegian’s first service game to take a 2-0 lead. Ruud hit straight back, breaking Nadal to love courtesy of two double faults and a tame unforced error, but that was about as good as it got for Ruud. Nadal immediately restored his advantage, with the pair then trading holds for the remainder of the set, which Nadal sealed comfortably.
Ruud started the second set well, breaking Nadal’s serve to at least give himself a chance of competing with the great Spaniard. But Nadal’s crosscourt forehand was causing Ruud real problems, with the ball rearing up high into his backhand. Novak Djokovic has twice beaten Nadal by standing up to that bounce and taking the ball on the rise, but he could not repeat the feat this year in the quarterfinals which did not bode well for Ruud.
The Norwegian’s backhand is not a ‘weakness’ per say, but to beat Nadal on clay, he needed it to be an outright strength. Nadal continued to attack the Ruud backhand, forcing his opponent deep behind the baseline, with Ruud looking increasingly powerless. Nadal broke back, then broke Ruud twice more to take the second 6-3. Whatever chance Ruud had surely vanished with the second set and when Nadal broke again at the start of the third the match looked more like an execution than a contest.
There were still some flashes of resistance from Ruud – he is not ranked 8th in the world for nothing – but he simply did not have the firepower to really challenge Nadal. There were also more errors than he would have liked, as well as some heavy-handed volleys, which suggested that the occasion was effecting him. That is hardly a surprise with Ruud having never previously been past the fourth round at a Grand Slam. He also received little support from the crowd despite his status as the underdog.
The end came quickly. Nadal broke Ruud again, to love, to take a 4-0 lead in the third set. Ruud’s confidence had clearly crumbled, with the Norwegian missing a simple volley down 0-40. Nadal, in contrast, was swinging freely, hitting winners at will. His competitive spirit has never been in doubt and he demonstrated exactly why in demolishing Ruud in the third set. A lesser player might have taken their foot off the gas, but that has never been Nadal’s style.
For Nadal, the victory extended his lead in the race to win the most Grand Slams of All-Time, with his 22 giving him a potentially decisive lead over Djokovic and Roger Federer, who have 20 apiece. Ruud, meanwhile, will have to take what he can from what was a chastening experience at the hands of the King of Clay. But when the dust settles, he will be able reflect on his efforts over the last fortnight in Paris with pride and it will surely help him in the long run.
For now, however, as has so often been the case at Roland Garros, the sun is shining on Nadal and Nadal alone. We will surely never see his like again.
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