For Rafael Nadal, there’s no place like home.
Roland Garros is his home since years. He is not affected by injury, age or any other factors at the French Open. On Sunday, Nadal won his record 14th French Open title—and 22nd major championship, the most-ever for a men’s player—beating Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. Nadal’s second champion point was a backhand shot along the left sideline. After putting his hands across his mouth, Nadal threw the racquet on the bench and raised his arms to the heaven, the Parisian cheers engulfing him.
The Spanish superstar increased his majors margin over rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to two—both those players trail him with 20. He’s now tied with Steffi Graf for the second-most majors, for a woman or man, in the Open Era: now in his sights, the all-time record, 23 major singles titles, held by Serena Williams.
Overshadowing this win is however the question of Nadal’s ability to keep playing and the possible possibility that Nadal has retired from Roland Garros. Nadal was open to admitting that chronic foot pain had affected his daily life. “Unfortunately, my day-to-day is difficult,” Nadal said in mid-May. His status for Wimbledon, the next Grand Slam event on the tennis calendar, remains in question: Nadal’s publicist has said he will “try everything within limits” to compete at Wimbledon. Before this year, Nadal has never won the season’s first two majors—the Australian Open and French Open—in the same year. So missing Wimbledon, where Nadal is a two-time champ, would forfeit his chance to take all four major tournaments in the same year; no men’s player has won such a Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
Continue readingIga Swaiatek defeats Coco Gauff in Second French Open Title
Even so, Nadal’s continues a golden era for aging men’s players. After his 30th birthday Nadal won eight Grand Slam titles, along with Djokovic. Roger Federer was 36 when he won his first title. Other champions of the past haven’t sustained such success: Pete Sampras, for example, won a single title after turning 30.
Ruud was 20, who is the first Norwegian Grand Slam winner, simply beat Nadal. Ruud grew up idolizing Nadal, and trains at Nadal’s academy in Spain; the pair have trained together and have a strong relationship. Ruud can’t help but remain in awe of him after Nadal’s performance. Ruud would likely dry a drop shot and Nadal will bull-charge toward the net in an attempt to get past him. In the second set, Ruud broke Nadal’s serve to go up 3-1. This was a crucial turning point. Nadal, however, broke right back, and didn’t lose a game the rest of the match. Nadal won eleven straight games in order to defeat his trainer buddy. He’s now 14-0 in French Open finals.
Ruud lost to Nadal 17 years after his first French title. Nadal wore white capri pants with a headband and was just 19 years old. Nadal stated that this match was more satisfying emotionally than the one he won in France 17 years ago, when he had suffered injuries and was still surprised to find himself holding the trophy almost two decades later.
Earlier in the year, Nadal came back from a two-set deficit against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev to win the Australian Open; this year’s French proved that in the biggest moments, he can crush his opponents while ahead, or still fight to the finish from behind. Simply put, he is one of the most influential players in sports history. Although he may be unable to compete at Wimbledon or win more titles, the beauty and strength of Rafael Nadal is undeniable. He’s at 22. He’s at 22.
Read More From Time