Rafael Nadal, undefeated in the Roland-Garros final, is only a short game away from a stratospheric 14th title on the Parisian clay court on Sunday (3pm) against Casper Ruud, who faces his idol for his first final major.
For the young Norwegian, facing Nadal at the Roland-Garros Central in the final is “the biggest challenge in the history of the sport”.
“He has 13 wins to zero in the final, so my task may seem impossible. But I will do my best … as did the other thirteen before me,” admitted Ruud, 8th in the world at 23 years old.
“I will dream (the night before the final) that I will make great winning shots and amazing long trades because that is where I will have a chance and I will have to play the best tennis of my life. But I have to believe it, “the player summed up the eight titles on the circuit, including seven on clay.
He is training at his opponent’s academy in the Balearic Islands and the two men have never faced each other on the circuit but have already played sets in training. “He always beat me, but it’s because it’s his academy and I wanted to be nice,” Ruud joked.
– “The biggest” –
Ranked in the category of ocher specialists, he will face the master of this area on Sunday (472 victories for 46 defeats or 91% success and even 111 victories for 3 defeats at Roland-Garros or 97% success) , the king of the court Philippe-Chatrier, the “greatest player in history” according to Ruud, the holder of the record title in the Grand Slam (21), the player with the mind like no other who, against all expectations, has won the first Major of the Year at the Australian Open.
Except that Nadal will present himself this time with – in addition to his 36 years – a well-identified Achilles heel: that left foot that makes him suffer chronically and whose intensity of pain can ruin his ambitions, as in Rome in the round of 16 where he was beaten by Shapovalov after gritting his teeth so as not to give up.
“After that, I wasn’t very optimistic about my footing, but I was positive that I would be able to play here (at Roland-Garros). And here I am. I played, I I fought, I did my best to give myself at least a chance to play in the final, “the Majorcan explained after his semi-final on Friday.
“And all the sacrifices I had to make, all the moments I went through to try to keep playing, it all makes sense when you experience moments like the ones I experience in this tournament,” he added. , without revealing the treatment prescribed by his doctor to endure the pain in Paris.
– “A little lucky” –
But precisely in the semi-finals, after a series of extremely trying matches against Auger-Aliassime in the 8th and Djokovic in the quarterfinals, he appeared less physically incisive. He may have been saved only by the terrible injury suffered by his opponent Alexander Zverev at the end of the second set – when the match had started more than three hours ago – and which led him to give up.
“I think it’s kind of lucky that the game ended before five or six hours of play (which seemed to have started, ed.) Because he looked physically worn out, also because of the game and the Sacha (Zverev) tactic, “said former world No.1 Mats Wilander, a three-time head of Roland Garros, now a consultant for Eurosport.
Chris Evert, who has lifted the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup seven times, is on the same wavelength: ) and I wonder which Rafa will show up on Sunday, “the American told Eurosport.
In any case, she dismisses a pitfall for the Spaniard, the pressure of a new extraordinary feat: “He’s going to get his 14th title but I don’t think the pressure will have any impact on him, he’s used to it.”
Especially since in nine Grand Slam finals against a player who was hoisting himself for the first time, Nadal was beaten only once, by Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open.