Nadal, against his student for the fourteenth Roland Garros

Rafa Nadal hits a ball in a match at the present Roland Garros. / Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

Men's Final

The Spaniard faces the Norwegian Ruud, an unexpected rival perfected in the bowels of the Rafa Academy in Manacor

Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud have never met in an official match. But that doesn't mean they don't know each other. In fact, they know each other quite well, because the Norwegian has been training for several years at Nadal's Academy in Manacor, where he has been able to train on numerous occasions with the 21-major champion, more than anyone else in history.

It was in August 2018 when Ruud, by then barely among the 150 in the world, decided to join Nadal's project in the Balearic Islands and start training at his school. On his merit sheet, at 19 years old, were the semifinals at the ATP 500 in Rio de Janeiro, in addition to being one of the most promising players in his country, where tennis has been scarce due to his talent.

In these almost four years, the man from Oslo has risen 140 positions in the world ranking, to get into the top ten and become the Norwegian with the best ranking in history, surpassing his father, Christian Ruud, who was 39 in the world in 1995. He has won eight titles, all between February 2020 and May 2022 -six on clay and two on cement-, in addition to reaching his first Masters 1,000 final, which he lost against Carlos Alcaraz in Miami and his first final in a Grand Slam, which will play this Sunday against Nadal.

Until this year in Paris, his best record in a Grande was the round of 16 in Australia, achieved this year, which denotes the great progression of the Norwegian who, however, started the clay tour, his best surface, in a very poor way. Between Monte Carlo, Barcelona, ​​Munich and Madrid he managed just four wins, before taking flight, reaching the semifinals in Rome, where he was stopped by Djokovic, and winning the title in Geneva the week before Roland Garros. Now he faces the ultimate test, the biggest game of his career.

The biggest challenge possible

“Playing against Nadal in the Roland Garros final is the biggest challenge in sport. He has won all 13 finals here, so it seems like an impossible task. I am aware that I am not the favorite, but I have to believe that I can win", admitted the Norwegian, who, despite never having officially faced Nadal, knows him from training at the academy and from having seen him a lot for TV.

“We have played some training sets and he has always beaten me. We played in his academy and he wanted to be educated », joked Ruud, who also said he had enjoyed the thirteen finals that Nadal has won at the Philippe Chatrier. “I could even say who each of them has played with. It's amazing to be there after seeing him against Federer, Djokovic, Thiem, Wawrinka... It's something I'll always remember in my career”, he added.

For Nadal, Ruud will be the third-lowest ranked rival in a Roland Garros final, on par with Frenchman Dominic Thiem in 2018, who was also eighth in the world, and Mariano Puerta, ranked 37th in the circuit in 2005.

The Spaniard aspires to a fourteenth title at Roland Garros, which would extend his dominance in Paris and place him with the twenty-second Grand Slam, two above Novak Djokovic, who has not won since Wimbledon 2021, and Roger Federer, who has his last wound in Australia 2018.

«Being in a final is incredible and an important success. It means a lot to be here again, "acknowledged the Spaniard, who, however, plays this Sunday with the cloud of the battered foot over his head. «I prefer to lose the final and have a new foot that allows me to be happier in my day to day. Winning is beautiful and fills you with joy, but life goes on and that is the most important thing”, were the words of a Nadal who is already number four in the world and who with a victory will stay very close to third place.

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