TENNIS

Rafael Nadal wins 14th Roland-Garros title, 22nd Grand Slam and becomes oldest champion in tournament history

ADVERTISEMENT

Rafael Nadal dominated Casper Ruud in straight sets on Sunday to claim his 14th French Open championship and 22nd Grand Slam title. But he revealed after the match that he needed an injection in his ailing left foot just to be able to play.

Nadal told Eurosport after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 win that he received an injection to numb his foot for Sunday’s final.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The preparation was not ideal,” he said. “I had a stress fracture of the rib, then I have the foot [pain], which stays there all the time. I had my doctor here with me — I don’t know how to say in English what we did. We played without feeling the foot, we played with an injection in the nerve so that the foot sleeps – that’s why I was able to play.”

During the trophy ceremony, Nadal thanked his family and support team for helping him, because otherwise he would have had to “retire long before”.

“I don’t know what can happen in the future,” Nadal told the crowd, “but I will keep fighting to try and keep going.”

Nadal revealed in his post-match press conference that he had frequent nerve injections over the past two weeks at Roland Garros, used to numb foot pain caused by Mueller-Weiss syndrome. It’s not a long-term solution to the chronic foot problem, and he’s due to see a specialist next week to undergo a new procedure – radiofrequency nerve ablation.

The success of this procedure will dictate whether or not he plays at Wimbledon.

“I’m going to be at Wimbledon if my body is ready to be at Wimbledon,” Nadal said. “That’s all. Wimbledon is not a tournament I want to miss. I don’t think anyone wants to miss Wimbledon. I love Wimbledon.”

He said if the procedure doesn’t work, he’ll have to decide if he’s ready to undergo major surgery with no guarantee that it will be successful and may require extended recovery time.

But he confirmed he would not go through the whole process of daily injections to get him through Wimbledon.

“Wimbledon is a priority, always [has] been a priority. If I am able to play with anti-inflammatories? Yes. Playing with anesthetic injections? No. I don’t want to put myself back in this position. Might happen once, but no, it’s not a philosophy of life that I want to follow.

“So let’s see. I’m still a positive guy and I always expect things to go the right way. So let’s be confident and be positive. Then let’s see what happens.”

Nadal’s victory came two days after his 36th birthday and made him the oldest title winner in the tournament’s history on clay. The oldest champion in tournament history was Andres Gimeno, who was 34 when he won in 1972.

Ruud led 3-1 in the second set, a deficit that prompted Nadal to raise his level – he has won the last 11 games. Nadal’s six lost games on Sunday are tied for his second least in a major final. He won six major finals in which he conceded less than 10 matches, breaking a tie with Richard Sears for the most by any man in tennis history.

Given his age, and more concerning the chronic pain in his left foot which has been an intermittent problem for years, Nadal has repeatedly said in recent days that he can never be sure that every match at Court Philippe Chatrier could be his last.

He played crisp and clean, racking up more than twice as many winners as Ruud, 37-16. Nadal also committed fewer unforced errors, going just 16-26 for Ruud.

When it ended in a backhand down the line from Nadal, he threw his racquet onto the red clay he loves so much and covered his face with taped fingers on both hands.

The Spanish star’s first triumph in Paris came in 2005 at the age of 19. No man or woman has ever won the singles trophy at a major event more times than their 14 in Paris. And no man has won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal.

He has two leads over rivals Roger Federer, who hasn’t played for nearly a year after a series of knee surgeries, and Novak Djokovic, who missed the Australian Open in January because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Despite all he has already achieved, Nadal has now done something he has never achieved before: he is halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam thanks to titles at the Open Australia and the French Open in the same season.

Nadal improved to 14-0 in the final at Roland Garros and 112-3 on aggregate in his favorite tournament.

“You are a real inspiration to me, to everyone who follows tennis around the world,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old Norwegian competing in his first Grand Slam final, “so I hope — we we all hope — that you will continue for some time.

When the players met at the net for the pre-match draw, the first chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” echoed through the 15,000-seat stadium. There would be more of these choirs. Ruud heard his own support, particularly when he briefly stepped up in the second set, with some in the stands scoring points he won with endless pronunciations of his last name, “Ruuuuuuud”, which sounded like boos.

Ruud considers Nadal as his idol. He remembers watching all of Nadal’s past Paris finals on TV. He trained at Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca.

They played countless practice sets together there with nothing more at stake than bragging rights. Nadal usually won them, and Ruud joked the other day that he was trying to be a polite guest.

The two had never met in a real match until Sunday, when a championship, money, ranking points, prestige and a piece of history were at stake. And Nadal demonstrated, as he has done it so often, why he is known as the king of clay – and among the greatest players of all time.

“We all know what a champion you are, and today I felt what it’s like to play against you in the final. And it’s not easy,” Ruud said. “I am not the first victim. I know there have been many before.”

Nadal can now place this latest Coupe des Mousquetaires alongside the trophies he collected at Roland Garros from 2005 to ’08, 2010 to ’14 and 2017 to ’20. He has also won the US Open four times and the Australian Open and Wimbledon twice each.

“For me, personally, it’s very difficult to describe the feelings I have,” Nadal said. “It’s something I never believed in, for sure – to be here at 36, to be competitive again, to play on the most favorite ground of my career, once again in the final. It means a lot to me. That means everything.”

Tom Hamilton of ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT