October 2, 2022

Rafael Nadal received a standing ovation he will probably never forget as he stepped onto the court for the French Open final with Casper Ruud.

The 13-time Roland-Garros champion walked the Philippe-Chatrier court for a wild and warm welcome before the men’s centerpiece on the famous red earth of Paris.

Talk of a potential retirement has swirled around the tournament given Nadal’s protracted injury struggles and even the legendary Spaniard’s own words about the pain he must endure to compete at the highest level.

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No player – except perhaps retired Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a genuine home favorite in Paris – can enjoy the kind of warm feeling that Nadal has at Roland-Garros given all he achieved during the tournament, and this was reflected once again in the long applause he received from the Parisian crowd.

It was a truly emotional moment when Nadal stepped onto the court and it set the stage perfectly for the final which is to follow on Sunday to close the 2022 edition of the Grand Slam on clay.

Eurosport’s Tim Henman described the atmosphere as “absolutely amazing”, while Alex Corretja added that it was “incredible”.

Ruud, seeded eighth at Roland Garros, reached his first Grand Slam final in Paris and also rose through the ranks at the Rafa Nadal Academy with the two good friends.

The Norwegian, who joined the Mallorca academy in 2018, explained that Nadal had “been my idol all my life” after securing his place in Sunday’s showpiece after beating Marin Cilic in the semi-finals.

“Admiring Rafa, the player I’m going to face in the final, he never complains,” Ruud said during his on-pitch interview. “Perfect. He’s a perfect example of how you should be on the court, never give up, never complain. He’s been my idol all my life.

“It’s amazing, he’s the last player of the big three of the best players in the world that I’ve ever played against. It’s perfect timing and worth the wait. Playing him in the Grand Final Slam will be a special moment for me, and I hope for him playing a student from his academy. It’s going to be fun.”

‘Absolutely amazing’ – Henman and Corretja react to the incredible atmosphere of the final

Speaking ahead of the match, Rafa’s uncle Toni shared with Eurosport his feelings of pride and “double joy” at seeing Nadal and Ruud rise to the top of the clay tennis world in Paris.

“Casper’s development over these years has been extraordinary,” he told Eurosport. “He reached his 150th birthday and today he is one of the best players in the world.

“He’s been in the top 10 for over a year, he’s one of the players who’s improved the most. He’s done an awesome job with his dad and I think we [the Academy] collaborated. We are totally proud of this collaboration.

“We are lucky to have worked with one of the most educated tennis players on the professional circuit. We cannot be more than happy to see an Academy player reach the Roland-Garros final.

WATCH – Nadal and Ruud arrive at Roland-Garros before the Roland-Garros final

“It’s a great source of satisfaction that Rafa is in another final, and it’s a double joy because he’s another player who has been trained here. I know it will be a difficult match for both of us, but if we have to lose with a… better lose with Casper.

“And if Casper has to lose to anyone, let it be Rafael. He already said back then that he was his idol when he was a kid. Now you have the chance to play the biggest game in the year on clay against him.

“We are expecting a great game and we will see who manages to lift the trophy.”

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