The Spaniard dominated Sunday’s final and won 11 consecutive games across the second and third sets to wrap up a 22nd grand slam title — two ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s all-time list.
The victory also means the 36-year-old Nadal, who won his first French Open title 17 years ago, becomes the oldest men’s singles champion at Roland Garros.
“For me personally, it’s very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said in his on-court interview after the game. “It’s something that I for sure never believed I’d be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more final — it means a lot to me.”
It was a case of the master against the apprentice at Roland Garros on Sunday with Ruud, who has trained at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca since 2018 and admired Nadal when he progressed through the tennis ranks, appearing in his first grand slam final.
But the 23-year-old was outclassed by Nadal in what was the first time the two had faced each other.
Having led 3-1 at the start of the second set, Ruud saw the contest slip away from him and failed to register a game in the final set.
He later paid tribute to Nadal, saying in his on-court interview: “We all know what a champion you are and today I got to feel how it is to play against you in the final. It’s not easy and I’m not the first victim — I know that there have been many before.”
The win against Ruud backs up the Australian Open title he won in January, the first time in his career Nadal has won the first two grand slams in the calendar year.
He got off to a fast start in Sunday’s final and took a commanding 4-1 lead in the first set after twice breaking Ruud’s serve.
Nadal’s tactic of targeting Ruud’s backhand proved effective, but he wobbled at the start of the second set — first as he squandered break points in the opening game, then when he was broken to love in the fourth game.
However, any momentum Ruud could gain was short-lived as his afternoon unraveled.
Nadal, who was hampered by an ongoing foot injury in the buildup to the tournament, appeared to move well around the court throughout the match and began to exert his dominance to take the next five games in the second set.
Then in the third set, which lasted just 30 minutes, Ruud hardly got a look-in.
A thumping, down-the-line backhand from Nadal completed the victory — and an historic 14th title at Roland Garros.
But will it be his last?
“I don’t know what can happen in the future, but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going,” Nadal told the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier to rapturous applause.