The knock-up begins, and so does talk that this could Nadal’s last ever match.
Nadal comes out, jigging up and down in his neon trackie top, and that sends out Ruud to meet the crowd, who give him warm if not exactly effusive applause. Nadal does one last check of his crown jewels and then heads out to pretty loud applause. It’s hardly the New Den, though, as this is Roland Garros on finals Sunday. Perhaps the audience will rattle their jewellery later as it gets more exciting.
The players are in the tunnel, Ruud pacing up and down, full of nervous energy, and Nadal is making him wait.
John McEnerney: “Casper has the toughest test in not just tennis but sport beating Rafa in RG! If the duct tape holds up Rafa in 4. Hopefully the occasion won’t get to Ruud & he’ll give Terminator 21 a run for his money.”
Gary Naylor’s been living the Good Life: “Ah yes. Jerry and Margo would be in immaculate kit, Jerry a little embarrassed by Margo’s dubious calling. Tom would use an old Maxply Fort to throw in the odd kick serve to show he could play once. And Barbara? ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn…’”
El Rey gets in touch, and makes some good points, saying: “Ruud has sounded very relaxed and zen about this match.”
- He’s played sets against Nadal in Mallorca
- He’s won the most on clay the last year or so
- He’s young and uninjured
- Nadal was not looking like a sure thing against Zverev
- Nadal’s foot or ribs could come into play
“If Ruud plays fearlessly, he could shock the world. Then the papers can come out with headlines like ‘A Ruud Awakening!’.”
All sound logic, and not beyond the realms of possibility.
After her defeat to Iga Swiatek yesterday, Coco Gauff lost again in a French Open final, this time in three sets in the women’s doubles. Her partnership with Jessica Pegula was defeated by Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
Casper Ruud actually trained at Nadal’s tennis academy – like watching David Beckham play competitively against Bobby Charlton – and now he faces his idol. Some quotes from the official Roland Garros site, including mention of his expertise on clay, on which surface he’s won seven titles, which makes him the most on-form player on that surface.
He’s the last player of the ‘Big Three’ and the very, very top players in the world I have never faced. I guess this is perfect timing and it was worth the wait. To finally play him in a Grand Slam final will be a special moment for me. Hopefully a little bit for him as well. He has played so many finals, but at least he’s playing a student from his academy this time. It’s going to be a fun one, hopefully.
“For me, I don’t know what to say, I just feel a little bit more comfortable on it, moving around and, in a way, it just kind of suits my game better. I like the fight, the hustle, and just everything about the clay. Of course it’s physically tough. You will usually play some long rallies, but I like it.
Tumaini Carayol, our man in Paris, previewed the men’s final.
This could not be a more difficult task for Casper Ruud, the first Norwegian man to reach a grand slam final. Nadal is Ruud’s idol, which has led to Ruud spending his last few years based at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor. While they have trained together many times there, Ruud has never faced Nadal in a match. He will not only have to emotionally adapt to playing in a grand slam final for the first time but to also staring down the legend across the net.
An even bigger obstacle for Ruud, though, is that he plays a lesser style inspired by Nadal, centred around heavy topspin forehands and steadfast consistency. Ruud had a pleasant draw in the bottom half, his highest-ranked opponent being the No 12 seed, Hubert Hurkacz, and this will be the most difficult challenge of his career.
Plucky Brit corner, the pluckiest of Brits in fact, Sir Andrew himself, who lost in the semis at Surburbiton, home of Tom, Barbara, Jerry and Margo.
History awaits on Philippe Chatrier. Whatever happens. In Rafa Nadal’s case, it’s the extension of his dominance of this tournament, a command that no man – or woman – has matched. Nadal and Roland Garros go together like gin and tonic, light and bitter, cheese and onion, and he has made some fine players look ordinary on that court. Novak Djokovic, one of the three modern greats, was robotic, jerky, restricted in the epic quarter-final they played this week. Had Sasha Zverev’s ankle not exploded on Friday, then maybe Nadal might not be here though he had already denied the German set points and was pushing towards a second when the end came.
Against him comes Casper Ruud, a first ever Norwegian men’s grand slam finalist, though one who put away Marin Cilic in the semi in some style. Ruud is a clay specialist, and at 23, has reached a major final where some of his more vaunted contemporaries have struggled in these days of late-stage tennis superheroes. Nadal, 36 just on Friday, is hobbling on one foot, has the knees of a retired coal miner, and can occasionally wobble. And yet, he’s Rafael Nadal, going for his 22nd grand slam, which would take him beyond his great rivals, meaning Djokovic, 35 himself, will have to win three more to surpass the Spaniard. Semi-retired Roger Federer is on 20, too.
So then, history. They will serve the first point around 2pm UK time.