In recent years as he has edged ever closer towards the twilight of his career, Rafael Nadal has continually discussed his advancing age with total disdain. While many see its silver linings in its maturity, he sees none.
It has gradually taken away one of the greatest assets, his athleticism. It has made his body, which has had far too many injuries, even more prone to them. Regardless, for 20 years he has approached his career with the same positive attitude, the same calmness, the same acceptance and fight, and in the process has continued to perform wonders so long into it.
After a fortnight in which he has been able to summon his best tennis only when he desperately needed it, Nadal picked apart Casper Ruud even in the absence of his top level for much of the match, winning the final 11 games to clinch a remarkable, record-extending 14th French Open title: 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.
Nadal has also extended his men’s all-time grand slam title record to 22, creating a notable gap between himself and his two greatest rivals, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who both have 20 major titles.
Two days after his 36th birthday, and 17 years after first winning here as a precocious 19-year-old, Nadal has now won for long enough to also stand as the oldest French Open men’s champion in history, surpassing the 50-year record set by his countryman, Andrés Gimeno, who was 34 years old. He is now halfway to the grand slam for the first time in his career after also winning the Australian Open in January.
The buildup to the tournament had been dominated by speculation about Nadal’s future after his chronic foot injury relapsed at the Italian Open. He was utterly miserable that night in Rome and has spent the past two weeks speaking doubtfully about the long‑term prospects for his foot without a permanent medical solution.