Mendoza: No stopping Nadal

·2 min read

When his crisp backhand clipped the line, Rafael Nadal would next cradle his record-extending 14th French Open and 22nd Grand Slam.

That moved him two Slams ahead of his chief rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who are tied with 20 majors each.

In victory, Spain’s Nadal also became, at age 36, the oldest clay court king, beating a pretender 13 years younger than him in a rather bland Finals.

The triumph unquestioned long before the match began was a thorough 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 teacher-student clinic, Nadal administering it before a sold-out crowd of 15,000 at Roland Garros that included glittering royalty.

King Felipe VI of Spain was seated beside the crown prince of Norway watching a subject perform on one of the grandest platforms in tennis.

Superstar athletes were at the presidential box curious at how a nondescript would fare against arguably the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in Nadal—among them NBA great Pau Gasol of Spain, and tennis legends Billie Jean King, Stefan Edberg, Stan Smith and Gustavo Kuerten.

“He (Nadal) is my idol growing up,” said Casper Ruud, the first Norwegian man to reach a majors final. “I am not sad. I am not the first victim. There have been many before.”

So enamored Ruud is with Nadal that he enrolled at the Nadal Tennis Academy in Mallorca, Spain.

Ruud was Nadal’s 112th victim in piling up an astonishing 112-3, win-loss result since Nadal won his first French Open as a 19-year-old debutante in 2005.

Two of those victories Nadal had carved out en route to Sunday’s finals—against Felix Auger-Aliassime (3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3) in the Round of 16 and against Djokovic (6-2, 4-7, 6-2, 7-6) in the quarter finals.

The twin epics each lasted nearly four-and-a-half hours, preceding Nadal’s anti-climactic semifinal win over Alexander Zverev, who quit after losing the first set and next twisting his ankle while the second set was tied at 6.

The abbreviated victory came on Nadal’s 36th birthday before nailing his crown-clinching win two days later, overhauling a 3-1 second-set Ruud lead by winning the next 11 games with his usual barrage of shots mostly too powerful to return.

“It’s incredible,” said Nadal, pocketing his second major of the year, adding the Australian Open. “I don’t know what can happen next but I will fight to keep going.”

He is serious—as usual.

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