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10sBalls Shares Ricky’s pick for the French Open Tennis final: Nadal vs. Ruud

The Men’s Singles leaderboard with the names of Rafael Nadal of Spain and Casper Ruud of Norway written as finalists ahead of the Men’s Singles final match; on Day 14 of The 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on June 04, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon
Even though Rafael Nadal is 111-3 lifetime at the French Open and has captured the title 13 times, nothing about the 2022 tournament felt like a sure thing for him heading into the fortnight.

Because of a rib injury sustained in Indian Wells, Nadal had played only two clay-court tournaments prior to arriving in Paris. He won neither, succumbing to Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid before another injury–this time his chronic foot issue–plagued him in a Rome loss at the hands of Denis Shapovalov. The Roland Garros draw ceremony piled on the problems, putting Nadal in the top half along with Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic, and Alexander Zverev.

There are problems no more for the King of Clay. He has advanced to his 14th French Open final, taking out the top-ranked Djokovic in the process. That’s not to say it has been easy. In addition to getting past the top seed in a fourth-set tiebreaker, Nadal required five sets to outlast Felix Auger-Aliassime in the round of 16 and he did not even get through two sets with Zverev despite playing for three hours and 13 minutes on Friday (the German was forced to retire after rolling over on his right ankle with Nadal leading, 7-6(8), 6-6).

Finally there is an air of inevitability when it comes to title No. 14 on the terre battue.

That’s not a knock on Sunday’s opponent, Casper Ruud. It’s just the nature of Nadal. He is an amazing 21-8 lifetime in Grand Slam finals, including 13-0 at Roland Garros. Not once has he been extended to five sets in a French Open final and six of the 13 have resulted in straight-set beatdowns.

It’s also true that Ruud should be an extremely favorable matchup for Nadal. The type of player that generally gives the Spaniard trouble is tall, big hitter who can hit balls in his strike zone and serve huge–keeping points as short as possible. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise to see Zverev make their semifinal so competitive and it’s why Marin Cilic would arguably have been a bigger threat in the championship match (Cilic lost to Ruud in four sets in the semis).

Ruud is none of those things–although he is an outstanding clay-court player in his own right. In fact, the 23-year-old Norwegian plays a bit like Nadal (as you might expect given how much time he has spent at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca). His forehand is right up there with Nadal’s among the heaviest in the game and his movement and consistency make up for not having an overpowering serve. That’s all well and good, but trying to beat Nadal at his own game at Roland Garros probably isn’t a recipe for success.

For the most part Ruud has been taking down more powerful opponents, such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lorenzo Sonego, Hubert Hurkacz, Holger Rune, and Cilic. Only once en route to the final did the world No. 8 win in straight sets (round two against Emil Ruusuvuori) and he needed five sets to beat Sonego.

“Casper is a professional,” Nadal said. “He has I think a very good character to play tennis; he’s very relaxed, humble. He’s always in a positive mood about learning. I think in the academy we were able to help him a little bit during [that] period of time.

“But another thing is, as I always say, I like to see [a good person] achieving his dreams. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for his mom (and) dad; I know them very well. They are a super family and great people. I am super happy when I see these great people having success.

“So for me, (it) is not a big surprise. Casper is one of the candidates [to win] every clay-court event that he’s playing. He’s one of the clear favorites, no?”

Well, not in this particular match.

Pick: Nadal in 3

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.