The Long & Winding Road – the 2022 French Open

Published June 6, 2022, 12:03 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Spain’s Rafael Nadal waves as he holds The Musketeers’ Cup after his victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud during their men’s singles final match on day fifteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris on June 5, 2022. (AFP)

This year’s two weeks of French Open tennis splendor at the fabled French capital of Paris had more bizarre twist and turns than the roads leading to Montecarlo and Baguio combined. At times, it seemed like some crazed screenwriter was churning out the narrative, daring us to blink in disbelief, and protest at how unfair or out of left field things were transpiring at Roland Garros. Then, as if keeping everything suddenly in check, we had order restored via who emerged as the eventual champions of the French Open – whether in the Men’s or Women’s draw. 

Iga Swiatek, is the Polish tennis player who’s basically laying waste to the Women’s game of late. She’s on a 35-match winning streak, has annexed her second French Open crown in three years, and denied American Coco Gauff her opportunity to make some kind of impression in a Slam Final. Mind you, the American women continued their impressive showing insofar as the mid-points of these Slam tournaments are concerned. As in the year’s first tennis Slam, the Australian Open, there were a number of Americans left standing as the Round of 16, and Quarter Finals commenced. 

Poland’s Iga Swiatek (R) shakes hands after victory over US’ Coco Gauff in their women’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Philippe-Chatrier in Paris on June 4, 2022. (AFP)

But if the final hurdle had Coco Gauff possibly realizing the potential that was first hinted at in the 2017 US Open, this rising American player was completely outclassed by the Polish girl, falling 6-1, 6-3. It was a complete drubbing, with Swiatek proving her undisputed superior game for now. In the past, observers often commended Swiatek’s rallying and groundstroke game, saying her service was the possible chink in the armor. Well, if this streak of 35 matches is anything to go by, she’s upped her service motion, and is making that weakness a thing of the past. 

The Men’s Draw, that’s where much of the craziness was happening. First, the draw had made it so that a match between last year’s Champion, Novak Djokovic, and the King of Clay (13-time French Open winner before this year’s tournament) Rafa Nadal, would take place in the Quarter-Finals of one half of the draw. As it was, they did meet in the Quarter, while Alexander Zverev and wonder kid Carlos Alcaraz-Garfia would clash in the other Quarter of this half of the Men’s draw.

With Tsitsipas and Medvedev bowing out in their Round of 16, this meant that the Quarters of the bottom half would have Marin Cilic meeting Andrey Rublev, while Norwegian Casper Ruud would go up against this tournament’s teenage giant killer Holger Rune. Nothing against these players, as they’re all solid journeymen, and Cilic has won a Slam title, the US Open – but I don’t see TV commentators gushing over these four, as they would over the line up of Nadal, Djokovic, Zverev and Alcaraz. 

So with television a major revenue booster for the Open, you can imagine which matches were being picked to be played under the lights, and enjoying prime time TV hours. And mind you, in the case of Paris this time of the year, the players in question definitely preferred to be playing in the daytime, and not at night when the temperature suddenly drops. 

In what may be looked back as the match of the tournament this year, Nadal outlasted Djokovic over four sets; and we had Zverev outsmarting Alcaraz-Garfia. In the bottom half, Cilic took out Rublev, while Ruud trounced Rune. But if you thought the drama was over until the Final, the Semi’s were out to spring new surprises. In the Nadal-Zverev contest, after three hours, we were still at the tail end of the second set; when Zverev twisted his ankle horribly, and tore several ligaments. Forced to retire, this was still another strange twist to the tale of this year’s French Open, and Nadal’s road to the Final. 

And so now we have Nadal vs Ruud, with Nadal on the brink of a 22nd Grand Slam title, which would push him two ahead of his closest rivals – Federer and Djokovic with twenty each. Crazy to imagine there was a point in time, just a few years back, when with Federer at 20 titles, and both Nadal and Djokovic some titles behind, some writers considered Federer’s 20 as practically unassailable, given that Novak was only holding 13, and Nadal had serious fitness and injury issues. 

As for Ruud, it’s the first time a player from Norway has reached a Slam final. A little sidebar story is that four years ago, Ruud went to Mallorca and the Nadal Academy to boost his game. So in a sense, this was master and apprentice vying for the French Open Cup this 2022. Nadal is now 36, while Ruud is 23 years old; and this Final is the first time they’re facing each other. 

Not to be denied now that he’s reached the Final stage, Nadal took the match in three straight sets. The first set had Rafa taking the set by the proverbial throat to establish dominance, breaking twice early and winning 6-3. Ruud put up quite a fight at the start of the second set, only to have the wind knocked out of him as Rafa won five straight games to take the second set at 6-3. Then up 5-0 in the third, it was all over but for the shouting. 

Viva Rafa, as he makes History, winning a 14th French Open (and being the oldest to do so at 36), and annexing a 22nd Slam title. For now, he is tennis’ GOAT, and there’s nothing to discuss or argue about.