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French Open 2022 Final, Rafael Nadal vs Casper Ruud: What would decide the blockbuster summit clash?

At the age of 19, Casper Ruud, then ranked 143 on ATP charts, travelled from Norway to Mallorca to join the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy in a bid to boost his game. Four years later, the Norwegian, now ranked eighth in the world, will be up against his master, his ‘idol’ for his maiden Grand Slam title on Sunday at the Roland Garros.

Nadal and Ruud are yet to face each other on court, making it a first-of-its-kind meeting in a Slam final since the 2008 Australian Open summit clash between Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but the 23-year-old has practiced with the Spaniard at Rafa’s academy. And the battle surely has both feeling positive about each other.

“I think in the academy we were able to help him a little bit during this period of time. But more than [anything], as I always say, I like to see [a] good person achieving his dreams. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for his mum, dad. I know them very well. They are a super-healthy family and great people. As always, I am super happy when I see these great people having success,” Nadal said of Ruud, who as well is excited to meet his childhood hero.

But Sunday’s final will be more than just a ‘master vs apprentice’ battle. While Nadal will be hoping to create more history at the Roland Garros with a 14th title and an unprecedented 22nd Slam, Ruud will be aiming to become the first from his country to win a major. And ahead of the blockbuster final on court Philippe Chatrier, we take a tactical dive into this ‘master vs apprentice’ clash...

Spain’s Rafael Nadal in action during his semi final match against Germany’s Alexander Zverev(REUTERS)

Getting more 1st serves in for Nadal

Before the match against Alexander Zverev, Nadal had managed to register in impressive win rate of 72 per cent behind his first serves. But the semi-final clash, which although lasted just for just two sets, saw a considerable dip in Nadal’s success rate on first serves, falling to 68.8 per cent. Nadal would want to avoid this against Ruud who has a low percentage of winning on first serve offering, registering a success rate of just 32.

Ruud, however, eats up second serve offerings with a win rate of 58 per cent, identical to that of Nadal. Although, Ruud is unlikely to have faced anyone so far of the ability of Nadal’s second serve, which has offered the Spaniard a win rate of 60.

Net play and drop shots

Challenge Nadal at you own risk at the net. He has been phenomenal at the front of the court with a 70.3 per cent (114/162) win rate at the net in six matches. What adds to Ruud’s concern is that Nadal has been using the drop shot more often in the second week at Roland Garros. Off the 83 he has hit in this tournament, 71 have come in his last three matches – 54 during continued rallies, 18 winners and 4 unforced errors.

Norway's Casper Ruud reacts as he plays against Croatia's Marin Cilic 
Norway’s Casper Ruud reacts as he plays against Croatia’s Marin Cilic 

Ruud has had a success rate of 66 per cent (99/149) at the net in his six matches so far and has been a fan of drop shot as well, attempting it 53 times during the second week in Paris but with just 4 winners and as many unforced errors.

Mid-length rallies

Both have enjoyed their ability to get quicker success off a point so far in the competition with an identical win percentage on short rallies (0-4 shots) and both have shown identical domination on longer rallies (9+). But the zone that separates the two is the mid-length rallies (5-8 shots). The Spaniard has a 60 per cent success rate in mid-length rallies while drawing fewer errors (218/147), compared to Ruud’s 53 per cent (174/330). The mid-length rallies have been Nadal’s key to claycourt success over the years and Ruud would want to be wary of that.


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