How Rafael Nadal reigned supreme again at the French Open to win a record-setting 22nd Grand Slam

Tennis

Rafael Nadal did not fall to the bottom in celebration on Sunday.

There was maybe no want for such theatrics. As a substitute, he raised his arms over his head and gave an emphatic fistpump to the adoring crowd. For a lot of the championship match he had left little doubt about what the end result can be.

Identical to he had carried out so many instances over the course of his profession on the French Open.

Nadal had simply defeated — no, make that dominated — Casper Ruud, a first-time finalist and pupil from his academy. Nadal gained the ultimate 11 video games for a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory and additional cemented his already unmatched legacy on the event and within the sport.

“For me it is very tough to explain the sentiments that I’ve,” Nadal stated throughout his on-court trophy ceremony. “It is one thing I by no means believed. Being right here at 36, being aggressive once more, taking part in on a very powerful courtroom of my profession … it means every little thing. I do not know what can occur sooner or later, however I will hold combating to attempt to hold going so many instances.”

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For a person dubbed the “King of Clay,” who had already gained a record-shattering 13 titles on the event and has his personal statue on the grounds, Nadal’s hoisting of one more trophy might look like no shock for some. Predictable, even.

However this yr, such a consequence was something however. Nadal knew that too, and his gratitude was evident.

In March, he suffered a stress fracture in his ribs at Indian Wells. That, together with recurring ache from his power left foot damage throughout his final tune-up event, left his standing for Roland Garros doubtful till days earlier than it started. Even when he confirmed he can be taking part in, nobody knew what to anticipate from Nadal.

However Nadal made his manner by way of the draw and defied all expectations. Along with his private physician on website for each day therapy, he pulled off one spectacular win after one other, together with over world No. 1 and 2021 champion Novak Djokovic within the quarterfinals and in opposition to No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in a five-set thriller within the fourth spherical. Improbably, he made his manner again to the ultimate.

Now, regardless of the chances, Nadal is the oldest French Open winner in event historical past and has gained his twenty second main title — two greater than Djokovic and Roger Federer.

“Rafa attending to 22, and with 14 titles at Roland Garros, is likely one of the biggest accomplishments in sports activities,” stated Pam Shriver, the 21-time main doubles champion and ESPN analyst. “He did not have to win another to be the GOAT, however getting two forward of Djokovic, with [Carlos] Alcaraz, Ruud, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Alexander] Zverev and others solely getting higher … now he has distanced himself. To not point out, now he is midway to the calendar-year Grand Slam.”


The adulations for Nadal have been swift on Sunday. Everybody from Rod Laver to Billie Jean King weighed in on his greatness and his contributions to the game on social media. “The King,” wrote Ons Jabeur, the No. 6-ranked ladies’s participant, with no caveat about floor.

It was a stark distinction to the place he was on the conclusion of the event a yr in the past.

For the latter a part of the 2021 season, even Nadal wasn’t positive about whether or not he would be capable of play once more attributable to his foot. After the French Open, through which he misplaced to Djokovic within the semifinals, he performed in only one event — the Citi Open in Washington. That efficiency within the nation’s capital left many questioning whether or not the top was close to for Nadal’s profession.

When he withdrew from the Canadian Open in August, he stated the ache was stopping him from having fun with taking part in tennis and, maybe most notably, permitting him to play with the fiery depth he had turn into identified for.

“I actually do not imagine that I’ve the possibility to battle for the issues that I actually need to battle for,” he stated.

He quickly introduced he would formally shut himself down for the season. Hypothesis elevated about his future and he later revealed that he too had contemplated strolling away from the game.

“[There were] a whole lot of conversations with the workforce, with the household about what can occur or what will occur if issues proceed like this, pondering that possibly [this] is an opportunity to say goodbye,” Nadal stated in January.

Even his journey to Australia to begin the 2022 season was virtually derailed by a bout with COVID-19 in December that left him bedridden and “bodily destroyed.”

However return he did.

Nadal recovered — and made historical past together with his twenty first main title on the Australian Open. It was an unbelievable, legacy-defining comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. And it broke the tie with Djokovic and Federer for many Grand Slam titles by a males’s participant.

Nadal gained his twenty first Grand Slam title on the Australian Open earlier this yr — a title only a few had predicted he might win. AP Picture/Patrick Hamilton

He did not cease there. Nadal then gained the Mexican Open, the subsequent event he performed, and appeared poised to win his fourth title of the yr at Indian Wells however struggled with a stress fracture in his ribs within the closing in opposition to Taylor Fritz. His well being had betrayed him but once more.

Nadal introduced he can be out recovering however hoped to be again in time for the clay season. He in the end made his return at Madrid final month — after simply 5 weeks. After which, in one other merciless twist, he suffered a setback together with his foot in the course of the Italian Open. His French Open hopes appeared dashed.

Nadal arrived in Paris, engulfed in a sea of questions, and he confessed the foot ache was all the time there and he was simply making an attempt to handle it. It wasn’t precisely a vote of confidence. It appeared unlikely Nadal would be capable of get previous Djokovic within the quarters as soon as the draw was revealed — if he have been even capable of get to that stage.

However then, as he is carried out so many instances over his profession, Nadal let his play do the speaking. He gained his first match over Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in simply over two hours. His subsequent two matches have been additionally gained in straight units. Then got here a troublesome take a look at in opposition to Auger-Aliassime within the spherical of 16, through which he wanted 5 units and 4 hours and 21 minutes to win. However he left little question that his unparalleled will and trademark resilience was nonetheless very a lot there.

“He raised his degree when he wanted to,” Auger-Aliassime stated after the match. “He was serving properly within the fifth set, taking part in properly behind the serve, being very aggressive, and I feel he took it even increased, one step additional.”

Towards Djokovic, Nadal refused to permit one other deciding set. Djokovic served for the fourth set at 5-3 however Nadal saved two set factors and in the end pressured a tiebreak through which he was victorious.

Djokovic was unable to cease Nadal’s surge of momentum. “I misplaced to a greater participant as we speak,” Djokovic stated after the match.

Nadal appeared on monitor for an additional marathon encounter in opposition to Zverev within the semifinals. The 2 have been locked in a second-set tiebreak after greater than three hours of play when Zverev harm an ankle and was pressured to retire from the match.

On Sunday, in opposition to one other proficient younger opponent, Nadal did not want further video games or factors, or an unlucky damage throughout the online, to realize his future. He took management from the beginning and by no means let up.

Ruud, who grew up idolizing Nadal and was capable of rattle off with ease all seven of Nadal’s earlier French Open closing opponents, is additional proof of Nadal’s legacy within the sport. The 23-year-old Norwegian, who attended Nadal’s 2013 closing in opposition to David Ferrer as a youngster, has skilled at Nadal’s academy for the previous a number of years and has been candid about Nadal’s affect on his profession.

“It is your 14th time right here, and twenty second all-around in Grand Slams, everyone knows what a champion you might be,” Ruud stated to Nadal on courtroom after the match. “At the moment I received to really feel what it is prefer to play in opposition to you within the closing, and it is not simple. … You’re a true inspiration for me and for everybody who follows tennis all over the world. All of us hope you’ll proceed for some extra time.”

However Nadal’s standing for Wimbledon, or the remainder of the season, is unclear, regardless of profitable the primary two majors of the yr for the primary time in his storied profession.

He now has an opportunity to realize the elusive Calendar Slam, one thing simply two males have ever carried out within the sport’s historical past, and tie Serena Williams’ Open Period document of 23 main titles. However Nadal has stated all through the event he is not pondering that far forward.

He cannot give it some thought. Nadal has stated he would not know the way lengthy he’ll be capable of play tennis and has stated each match he performs in might very properly be his final. He insisted after his victory over Djokovic on Tuesday that he wasn’t specializing in something past the French Open and was simply making an attempt to understand each second.

“I do not know what is going on to occur after right here,” Nadal stated. “I imply, I’ve what I’ve there within the foot, so if we aren’t capable of finding an enchancment or a small resolution on that, then it is changing into tremendous tough for me. In order that’s it. I’m simply having fun with every single day that I’ve the possibility to be right here, and with out pondering a lot about what can occur sooner or later.”

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