Nadal Still The King Of Clay, Wins 14th Roland Garros Title

Rafael Nadal (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 5, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Imagine you’re playing Rafael Nadal for the first time and it’s for the Roland Garros singles title on the most famous red clay court in the world, before a sold-out crowd, on an overcast, late-spring Paris day.

On Sunday afternoon at Stade Roland Garros, Casper Ruud‘s dream became reality. The 23-year-old Norwegian, who became the first man from Norway to play in a major final, faced 13-time French Open champion Nadal who, at 13 years his senior, has been his longtime tennis idol. With plenty of tennis royalty,  including Billie Jean King, Stan Smith, Stefan Edberg and Gustavo Kuerten – not to mention the king of Spain and crown prince of Norway – sitting court side, there was a festive atmosphere that was befitting of a major final.

Since 2005, the French Open has been Nadal’s crown jewel. He’s always risen to the occasion and played his most inspired tennis, hitting many a great and acrobatic winner, drawing the appreciation of the French fans – and fans of the sport worldwide. This time, just three days after celebrating his 36th birthday, Nadal rose to the occasion and won another major title, his record-extending 22nd. It moved him further ahead of Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the quarterfinal round, and Roger Federer in the Grand Slam race. Both of them are tied with 20 major titles.

By the end of the two-hour, 18-minute final, the living legend Nadal had won his 14th French Open. The 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 score in favor of the Spaniard was indicative of Nadal’s dominance and brilliance on clay, especially on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Despite Ruud being one of top players on the ATP Tour when it comes to winning tournaments the red-dirt surface – seven in the past two seasons – he was no match for Nadal.

From first ball to last ball, the King of Clay showed great control, tolerated frustration, and by the end, Nadal showed how special a man he is. He was truly moved by the moment of victory.

By winning this year’s French Open, Nadal became the oldest player to win the Roland Garros title, surpassing Spaniard great Andres Gimeno, who set the record 50 years ago in 1972. He also improved to 112-3 at the clay-court major. It was also his fourth ATP Tour title of the season, which tied him with Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcatraz, and was his 30th victory of the season. Plus, Nadal fought through the pain of a chronic foot injury, which he struggled with as recently as three weeks ago in Rome.

“For me personally, it’s very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said during the trophy ceremony. “It’s something that I for sure never believed I would be here at [age] 36, being competitive again, and playing on the most important court one more time. One more title means a lot to me, means everything, a lot of energy to try to keep going. I want to say merci, merci beaucoup.”

After exchanging service breaks early in the opening set, which left Nadal leading 2-1, the Spaniard broke Ruud for a second time after the Norwegian hit a forehand wide and consolidated it to increase his advantage to 4-1.

Despite being far from his top form, Nadal still wrapped up the 49-minute first set 6-3 with patience and heavy topspin power – and an occasional drop shot thrown in for surprise – while Ruud was a bit off target on big points. It’s the fifth straight Roland Garros that Nadal has won the opening set and 11th time overall in his 14 French Open final appearances.

This time, Nadal won 88 percent (14 of 16) of his first-serve points and nearly half (48 percent) of his receiving points. He hit 11 winners, made just nine unforced errors and won eight of eight net points. Meanwhile, Ruud hit eight winners and committed 10 unforced errors. He also made 11 forced errors.

Next, on serve in the second set through the first three games, Nadal handed the fourth game to Ruud after hitting his third double fault and it was 3-1 in favor of Ruud. However, Nadal broke right back in the next game and held at love to level the score at 3-all. It prompted longtime New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey to tweet: “The brass bullfight band up near the last row is playing better than anyone today.”

Soon, Nadal broke Ruud for the fourth time in eight tries to go ahead 4-3 and consolidated the break at love with his first ace of the match to head 5-3. Then, after stringing together 10 of 11 points won, Nadal found himself with a couple of set points at 15-40. Although Rudd saved both of them plus one more, Nadal sealed the set 6-3 after Ruud double-faulted on the Spaniard’s fourth set-point opportunity to fall behind two sets to none. Nadal won the set after breaking Ruud in a trio of consecutive service games (fifth, seventh and ninth).

One had to wonder if, after an hour and 45 minutes, could title No. 14 be coming into view? After all, it was the ninth time in 14 Roland Garros finals that Nadal had won the first two sets, and through the first two sets this time, Nadal had converted five of 12 break points, was broken just twice, and hit 23 winners to Ruud’s 15.

In the final set, Nadal arguably saved his best tennis for the end. He jumped ahead quickly 4-0 with back-to-back breaks of Ruud’s serve (the sixth and seventh times he had broken the Norwegian) as he continued to hustle and score points at will from both wings. Then, after holding his own serve for 5-0 for the 10th straight game he had won– he dropped only four points on his serve in the final set – Nadal reached match and championship point at 15-40. Although Rudd saved the first one, Nadal won on his second try after hitting a brilliant eighth-shot backhand winner – his 37th winner of the afternoon – for game, set, match, championship.

On this day, Ruud simple had no answers. He could only watch and learn, smile and feel in awe of what Nadal was able to accomplish, then shake the champion’s hand at the finish.

“The most important thing is to congratulate Rafa,” Ruud, who has trained at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, said during the trophy ceremony. “It is your 14th time here and 22nd [title] at Grand Slams. We all know what a champion you are and today I got to feel how it is to play against you in the final and it is not easy. I am not the first victim, I know there have been many before.

“To you Rafa, your team, your family. You have taken me into your academy with open arms. So thank you a lot,” Ruud added. “You are a true inspiration to me and everyone who follows tennis around the world. We all hope you will continue for some more time.”

Indeed, Nadal’s outrageous run at Roland Garros had ended in another victory celebration, his 14th Roland Garros singles title and his 22nd major title overall. Once again, the Coupe de Mousquetaires was his to lift, cradle and kiss.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Nadal added during his trophy ceremony remarks, “but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going. So, many thanks. Thank you very much everyone.”

The King of Clay remained unbeatable at Roland Garros, as always – and humble, too. It doesn’t get old.

Home team victory by Garcia and Mladenovic in women’s doubles final

It took French wild cards Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic a decisive set and three match points to secure their second French Open women’s doubles title – and first since 2016. However, when Garcia hit an overhead smash near the net on the 13th shot of the final rally to secure a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory and title over No. 8 seeds Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula of the United States, the popular duo dropped their racquets and shared a big celebration on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Garcia and Mladenovic hugged each other with glee. Then, they ran up into the player box and celebrated with their parents and friends as the partisan fans feted them with applause at the conclusion of the one-hour and 44-minute final.

For the third time during the Paris fortnight, Garcia and Mladenovic came from behind to secure victory. This time, not only did it give the popular Garcia and Mladenovic their second major title together, it was also the fourth Roland Garros women’s doubles title overall for Mladenovic. The former WTA Doubles World No. 1 also won the French Open in 2019 and 2020 alongside Timea Babos of Hungary. When Garcia and Mladenovic won Roland Garros in 2016, they became the first all-French team to win the women’s doubles title since 1971.

While Garcia and Mladenovic enjoyed previous success together, winning the WTA Doubles Team of the Year and being crowned ITF Doubles Champions of 2016, they broke off their playing partnership to go their separate ways as well as to focus on singles. Their current doubles rankings – Mladenovic is ranked 232nd and Garcia 469th– reflect this.This was just the fourth event they’ve played together since early 2017 and they needed a wild card to gain a berth in the main draw.

“It’s definitely a big surprise, because in 2016, we were in a different situation,” Garcia said during the French duo’s post-match press conference. “We were both in top 10 in doubles. We were a big team so people were expecting us. It was not the case this year.

“You take one day at a time, just really focus on the present and really enjoy it.”

“In tennis you have to take everything you can, a title in WTA, it’s something very big. In Slams, it’s even bigger. You never know when you are going to come back, and you really have to enjoy it and take all the positive you can.”

Mladenovic added: “Today this atmosphere, these are memories that we will never forget. It’s as special or even more special than before.

“Living that together with Caro, speaking of the energy, we had the impression that it was France against the U.S. It was like a Fed Cup match. It was amazing to see this crowd present for a final today. A lot of shivers and emotions, it was even more than in 2016.” 

However, after representing France at last year’s Tokyo Olympics and reaching the second round at this year’s Australian Open, Garcia and Mladenovic seemed to have regained some of their former magic. They played their best tennis of the tournament during the final against Gauff (ranked 10th) and Pegula (ranked 31st). The French duo won 65 percent (36 of 55) of their first-serve points, 51 percent (39 of 76) of their receiving points, and hit 40 winners to 28 unforced errors. They converted five of 12 break points and outpointed their opponents 84-72.

With the title victory, Mladenovic is projected to return to the Top 50, where she will be joined by Garcia. Gauff will jump to No. 5 and Pegula to No. 12.

Around Roland-Garros

Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot, both from the Netherlands, won their fifth consecutive women’s wheelchair doubles title on clay. The Dutch duo defeated No. 2 seeds Yui Kamiji of Japan and Kgothatso Montjane of South Africa, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 10-8, in two hours and four minutes. The match began on Saturday but was suspended by rain at 4-4 in the match tie-break and resumed on Sunday.

• No. 1 seeds Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett, both of Great Britain, defeated Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina and Shingo Kunieda of Japan, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), in two hours and 20 minutes to win the men’s wheelchair doubles final.

• No. 1 seed Niels Vink of the Netherlands defeated fellow countryman and No. 2 seed Sam Schroeder, 6-4, 7-6 (8), to win the quad wheelchair singles title. The final was carried over from Saturday due to rain, with Schroeder leading 2-0 in the second-set tie-break.

Sunday’s French Open results

Passing shots

By the numbers

This year’s French Open total attendance, with night sessions, was 613,500, according to FFT president Gilles Moretton.

“Quotable …”

• “Amazing tournament. You both lost to Iga. So, basically you went all the way, in my opinion. Singles and doubles, hats off. Coco, 18-years-old, going back with two trophies from Roland-Garros, respect. Congrats to you and your team.”

Kristina Mladenovic of France, during the trophy ceremony after winning the women’s doubles final.

“Team, family, everyone who is there. It is amazing the things that are happening this year. I  just thank you very, very much for all the things you are doing for me and over the years. Without you none of this would be possible, without any doubt. Especially in the very tough moments we went through with injuries.

“Thank you to everyone who made this event possible. Without a doubt for me and for a lot of people who love the history of the sport, it is the best tournament in the world. … You make me feel like home so I just want to say thank you very much everyone here and the French Federation.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain, during the trophy ceremony following his 14th Roland Garros title victory.