How Rafael Nadal reigned supreme again at the French Open to win a record-setting 22nd Grand Slam

There was perhaps no need for such theatrics. Instead, he raised his arms over his head and gave an emphatic fistpump to the adoring crowd. For much of the championship match he had left little doubt about what the outcome would be.

Just like he had done so many times over the course of his career at the French Open.

Nadal had just defeated — no, make that dominated — Casper Ruud, a first-time finalist and student from his academy. Nadal won the final 11 games for a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory and further cemented his already unrivaled legacy at the tournament and in the sport.

“For me it’s very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” Nadal said during his on-court trophy ceremony. “It’s something I never believed. Being here at 36, being competitive again, playing on the most important court of my career … it means everything. I don’t know what can happen in the future, but I’m going to keep fighting to try to keep going so many times.”

For a man dubbed the “King of Clay,” who had already won a record-shattering 13 titles at the tournament and has his own statue on the grounds, Nadal’s hoisting of yet another trophy may seem like no surprise for some. Predictable, even.

But this year, such a result was anything but. Nadal knew that too, and his gratitude was evident.

In March, he suffered a stress fracture in his ribs at Indian Wells. That, along with recurring pain from his chronic left foot injury during his last tune-up tournament, left his status for Roland Garros in doubt until days before it began. Even when he confirmed he would be playing, no one knew what to expect from Nadal.

But Nadal made his way through the draw and defied all expectations. With his personal doctor on site for daily treatment, he pulled off one impressive win after another, including over world No. 1 and 2021 champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals and against No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in a five-set thriller in the fourth round. Improbably, he made his way back to the final.

Now, despite the odds, Nadal is the oldest French Open winner in tournament history and has won his 22nd major title — two more than Djokovic and Roger Federer.

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