Ruud stands between Nadal and 14th French Open

NORWEGIAN Casper Ruud is the only thing that stands between Rafael Nadal and further record-breaking feats. The sixth seeded Spaniard already has 13 Roland Garros trophies in his cabinet – 21 majors all up – and will look to extend his lead at the all-time leaderboard with yet another French Open title. He moved through to the final after third seed German Alexander Zverev injured his ankle and was forced to retire from the match, finishing on crutches in an emotional finish. In the other semi-final, Ruud had to fight past a determined Marin Cilic, denying the Croatian a chance at reaching all four Grand Slam finals, and reaching his first major final in the process.

The eighth seed won 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2, able to get going after dropping the first set, in a similar story to his quarter final win over Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune. Always an impressive clay courter, Ruud has been able to reach his first Grand Slam final at the age of 23, and is gunning to become the first male Norwegian, and only the second Norwegian in history – with Molla Bjurstedt’s 1915 US Open title – to claim a Grand Slam title. Having reached the Round of 32. the last three consecutive events, Ruud well surpassed that in 2022, with the world number eight taking two hours and 55 minutes in his latest victory.

He produced 16 aces to Cilic’s 10 during the four-set match, and won 71 and 64 per cent of his first and second serve points, well up of Cilic’s 68 and 44 per cent. However the Croatian veteran was able to remain in the match with a high serving efficiency of 66 per cent, while also hitting 51 winners. Ruud hit 10 less winners, but was also incredibly tight with his play, only producing 21 unforced errors compared to Cilic’s 56. Though the wily Croatian was strong at the next (12 volleys and four approach shots), Ruud made the most of that, with eight passing and 17 lob shots, whilst also forcing his opponent to the net on the regular with 15 drop shots.

Ruud said he was pleased with how he was able to overcome a disappointing first set where he played “too defensive” to come away with the victory and book his maiden Grand Slam final.

“It was a great match from my side. I didn’t start the greatest but Marin also played very well in the first set. I was too defensive and then I was able to break him in the second set,” Ruud said post-match. “That got me going a little bit. “From that break I played some of my best tennis this year, serving well, super aggressive, so I’m super happy with the performance today,” Ruud said in his on-court interview.

“I think Marin is usually the one playing very fast and playing the balls very hard. “That was the feeling I got. He was serving big, playing well coming to the net, so I guess I figured I need to step up a little bit and counter-attack and try to go for some faster shots and it helped. “It worked out, so I changed a little bit but also raised my level.”

Ruud said he was looking forward to playing his clay court idol in the Grand Slam final.

“I guess I have worked on (staying calm) because when I was younger i was a bit of a cry-baby,” Ruud said. “I cried too much and was always too negative. “But I guess I also grew up a little bit and matured over the years. “Looking up to Rafa, the player I’m going to play in the final, he never complains and he’s a perfect example of how I think you should behave on court – never give up and never complain. “He’s been my idol for all my life.”

The other semi-final ironically went loner despite not even completing two sets. Nadal won the first set in a tiebreaker 7-6 and the match was headed for a second successive tiebreaker, as Zverev howled in pain from landing awkwardly. It was fairly quickly established there was no way the German third seed could go on, returning from a medical timeout in the rooms on crutches, calling time on the clash that had lasted three hours and 13 minutes, with just under eight minutes per service game on average.

Prior to Zverev’s retirement, both players put on a show, with Nadal needing to weather the Zverev serving storm to grind out a 10-8 victory in the tiebreaker, and then broke in the first game of the second set. Despite Nadal playing back-to-back epics against Felix Auger-Aliassime and Novak Djokovic, the Spaniard hardly looked phased, instead it was Zverev looking gassed, needing everything in his arsenal to try and stick with the greatest clay court player of all time.

The German served five aces to three, but also eight double faults to one, serving at a 77 per cent serving efficiency for the match. Nadal might have only served at a 60 per cent serving efficiency, but won 58 and 49 per cent of his first and second serves, compared to Zverev’s 56 and 38 per cent. He also only hit 26 unforced errors compared to Zverev’s 47, with the German hitting 40 winners to 21. The Spaniard also utilised both drop shots and lobs to full advantage, forcing the taller Zverev into uncomfortable situations to avoid a baseline rally the entire time.

Nadal said it was a disappointing result for Zverev and though the German fell short of a Grand Slam title yet again, the Spaniard said he was confident his opponent would fill his trophy cabinet soon enough.

“Very tough and very sad for him, honestly, he was playing unbelievable tournament. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam but for the moment he was very unlucky. The only thing is I’m sure he’s going to win not one, much more than one and I wish him all the best and a very fast recovery,” Nadal said post-match.

“Had been a super tough match, three hours, and we didn’t even finish the second set. “It’s one of the biggest challenges on the tour when he’s playing at this super high level. “Difficult to say a lot of things today in this situation. “Of course, for me, being in the final of Roland Garros one more time is a dream, without a doubt. “But at the same time, to finish that way, I’ve been there in a small room with Sascha before we came back on court and to see him crying there is a very tough moment so all the best to him.”

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