Rafael Nadal will be the oldest person to win a French Open title if he loses to Norwegian Caspar Rudd, whose clay court talent he has personally helped nurture.
Nadal will play in his 14th Roland Garros final on Sunday and his 30th final overall at the Grand Slam.
The victory will give the record-breaking 22nd Major and 14th French Open 17 years after his title-winning debut in Paris.
Nadal, 36, was surprised to come this far.
A chronic left foot injury that has plagued him throughout his career has flared up again in Rome last month, even creating a serious question mark over his arrival in the French capital.
“Without a doubt, I like to lose the final and get a fresh start,” admitted Nadal, who did not hide the harsh reality that every match played at Roland Garros could be his last.
Despite his fears, Nadal impressively fought his way into Sunday’s championship match.
In the last 16, Felix Agar-Aliasim needed five more sets and four hours to beat him and four more hours to defeat Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Alexander Zaverev then pushed him all the way to the semifinals for three hours until a sick ankle injury forced the world number three German to leave on a crutch.
Despite the Germans’ daring all-or-nothing challenge, Nadal still made an impressive appearance on the court, at one point rising to the top in a lung-busting 44-shot rally.
His record at the French Open now stands at 111 wins and just three defeats. Djokovic was responsible for two of the defeats.
Nadal was just 19 when he won his first French Open in 2005.
Sunday’s victory will make him the oldest champion of the tournament, surpassing 34-year-old compatriot Andres Gimeno, who won the title 50 years ago.
Rudd, the world number eight, 23, is a clay court player in the form of this tour.
Not only have seven of the eight titles of his career come to the fore, but he has won 66 matches on the surface since 2020 and played in nine finals.
Rudd is the first Norwegian to reach the Grand Slam final.
Robin Soderling, a Scandinavian colleague, is the only person other than Djokovic to defeat Nadal in Paris in 2009.
Rudd has been training at Nadal’s academy in Manakore since 2018 with his father Christian, a former top 40 player and Spaniard Pedro Clare.
Nadal and Rudd have never met professionally but they often hit partners in Spain where the Norwegian admits that “he beats me almost all the time in practice”.
“Caspar has a very good character to play tennis. He is very relaxed, humble. He is always in a positive mood about learning, “said Nadal.
“I think we at the academy have been able to help him a bit during this time.”
Ruud was just six years old when Nadal became the first French Open champion and described the Spaniard as his “idol”.
“I could probably tell you all the finals and who he played and who he beat because I saw them all on TV,” said the Norwegian.
“He’s the greatest clay court player of all time and one of the best players of all time.”
For Nadal, the win would give him a double of the Australian Open-French Open in the same year for the first time.
That would take him halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, achieved only three times in history, the last of which was by Rod Lever in 1969.
“I fought, I did everything possible to give myself another chance at the Roland Garros final,” Nadal said.
“The sacrifices and everything I have to go through to keep the game going is really understandable when you enjoy the moments you enjoy in this tournament.”
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