2022 Roland Garros Men's & Women's Final Writeup
Nadal vs Ruud :
Another two weeks of Roland Garros are in the books, and Nadal is in yet another final where it looks like there is no way to stop him. Zverev came into the semifinals playing the best tennis of his career. I really don’t think I’ve seen him play better or more engaged than he did against Alcaraz, and the level continued against Nadal. It looked early like Zverev’s weight of shot was having a large impact on Nadal’s ability to get depth. The rain and roof being closed also made for humid conditions, which impacted the flight and bounce of the ball. Nadal went as far as not keeping balls in his pocket to avoid them getting wetter than he felt they already were. Visible complaints to his box made it seem like Zverev had the ideal conditions, and Zverev broke early for 2-0. Nadal, shocker, levelled things as the set reached the finish line, but Zverev seemed to be able to use his backhand cross to really get short balls off of Nadal’s forehand. Nadal’s foot seemed to make it a lot tougher to overcome the deep court return position he went with today, and the match had a feel to it that Zverev would pull away at some point.
The tiebreaker was a solid performance from Zverev, and he very likely did enough to win it. At 6-2 he sent a simple volley an inch long. Nadal then covered the length of the court twice and came up with a crosscourt pass that didn’t even appear open when he was swinging. A solid lead became 6-6, and the crowd willed Nadal into hitting a tremendous pass down the line to take the set. Despite Nadal’s prowess as a frontrunner, Zverev still looked like the better player. He broke halfway through the second and it looked like we’d get a real shootout. Nadal didn’t seem to realize this though, and he broke back and the match again headed towards a tiebreaker. Serving with game point, at 5-6, Zverev ran to his forehand wing and rolled his ankle. He was hitting the windmill forehand and the extra effort thrown into the swing on those means you’re likely looking to slide on your right foot to change direction out of that. Unfortunately, that means that his weight was committed to the lunge and his ankle went a bit perpendicular which is not recommended.
Zverev went down immediately and started crying and audibly crying out in pain. I’ve ripped on Zverev for years. When I’m pointing to bad examples of things I usually use him as an example. The small view I have of him is not a positive one, and I’m a bit ashamed to say I thought for a moment he might return to the court. Injuries that make adults cry instantly are generally the end of a match if not the end of a season, but Zverev isn’t always an adult. I judged him too harshly though in this case, and he returned, but on crutches. Since I always point out his problems, I’ll give him a nod on the return to the court. Coming back to shake the umpire’s hand may have seemed like a PR move to some, but it still was the right thing to do and the crowd’s cheering for him was genuine. If you want to grow, sometimes you need adversity. If you want to escape your past mistakes, sometimes you need to be forgiven first. Some time off the court, and the crowd supporting him in a way that he could definitely feel will hopefully bring back a new and better Zverev, who I will then rip on.
Nadal gets a huge result here for his chances. He was only two sets in and this match was already 3 hours and 13 minutes long. Zverev wasn’t fading at all, so this had the potential to be a 7-8 hour affair. Instead, Nadal gets two days to recover, and now the training wheels can come off. Managing the pain and stamina has to be a nonstop project for him and his team, but with 3 matches left it’s a much bigger puzzle than with 1. He’ll be taking whatever he can, and leaving it all on the court. To me, the “Nadal can’t play” level of foot pain hasn’t appeared. He’s definitely not his best, but his second gear is pushing through on the simple fact that his skill with a racquet is top tier.
While the first match was a pretty strange occurence (withdrawals from injuries usually happen earlier in events), the second semifinal did its best to match it. Ruud and Cilic started out really playing a solid level of tennis, but Ruud’s conservative shot selection allowed Cilic to thrive. Marin was serving excellent yet again, and Ruud was generally looking to drag rallies out. The problem with that is a fresh opponent has no problem producing another winner or two. Ruud made some excellent sliding gets with an open-faced forehand, but Cilic just took these crosscourt. He also made a habit of getting to net a bit, and it looked like Ruud would have to change tactics or lose.
Credit to Casper Ruud, he turned this into a claycourt match in the second set. Cilic threatened to break early, but Ruud was able to hold with some gutsy shots and improved serving. In the 2nd set he hit 75% of his serves into the corners, and the result was his forehand was always hitting the second shot. Cilic’s offense is good enough to hit through Ruud’s defense, but Cilic’s defense isn’t anywhere near the same as Ruud, so overcoming Ruud inside the baseline is just not something he’s going to do that often. When Ruud got a late break to win the second, it appeared that the tides were turning, and early in the third Casper’s returns started to find their range.
As Ruud dug into the match and started hitting a heavier ball, Cilic’s level began to drop. I do believe he got a bit fatigued in this one, as his errors mostly came on the forehand wing. He had overheads that he missed, and balls short in the court that he smothered wide. This is usually a sign of fatigue. Mentally, you’re excited to see the short ball and are focused on it, but you fail to register that your body is moving a split-second slower and you swing your arm instead of your arm and your body. There’s generally a shorter than ideal takeback on these shots also, but some credit should go to Ruud because a good defender can make you miss the easiest shots.
In the 3rd Ruud broke twice and it seemed like he’d run away with things. That was when a protestor got onto the court and attached herself to the net with a lock while glueing her hand to the netpost. She was raising awareness about pollution being bad for nature. I agree. We should definitely save nature. Nature is dope, and keeps us alive. This is pretty simple. How do we get there? Let’s work on it. Also how did they get her off the post that quick? Feels like a time to spend the extra $ and get the good glue. Play was delayed while she was removed from the stadium, and I wondered if Cilic might find a second wind after the break. Ruud continued applying pressure after the break though, and Cilic didn’t seem able to find a good rhythm again on his forehand. To backtrack a little, Cilic did play some tremendous tennis today, he just couldn’t string points together at the end of the match, and against someone playing a very secure gameplan like Ruud that means your service games are always under pressure. Playing a 25 shot rally at 30-0 is a lot simpler than at 30-40, so Cilic may have been right to go for the gusto. I mean who doesn’t want gusto.
Ruud and Gauff are into their first finals and it’s well deserved for both. Ruud has worked tremendously hard on his precision tactics and defending, and he’s one of the few guys on tour who have continued to improve both wings despite not really changing their swing. His backhand down the line has been more frequent and he landed some clutch ones as he was closing out sets against Cilic. His forehand was always the better wing but now it’s breaking down his opponents forehands. He’s one of the most consistent performers on tour in terms of winning matches as a favorite, and when he’s the top seed at a tournament he pretty much makes a minimum of the finals. His hardcourt game is coming along and his service motion is extremely fluid and hard to read. If you’re looking for an heir to the throne, it’s Casper Ruud. It’s time though, to acknowledge that our hero Casper has a darkside. Many will know from being the victims of Casper’s pranks, still others will have surmised it from his PRANKINAINTEASY tattoo. Local hero Holger Rune was brave enough to expose the international bandido of mischief, and for that we are eternally grateful. Time after time a young kid comes onto the tour and just fumbles the ball socially when things aren’t going their way. If you missed it, Rune has claimed (fairly saltily) that Ruud shouted in his face in the locker room after their match, and that he’s not the great guy he seems to be. As far as drama goes, I could do without Rune embarrassing himself speaking publicly after a loss. His team need to give him perspective in these moments, or he’s never going to grow. The tennis junior pro life is just very one-dimensional. They need guidance or they wind up being spoiled brats, and it doesn’t make me feel great critiquing the behavior of a kid thrust into the spotlight and a situation very few are properly prepared for. Holger was gonna be a knob whether he was a pro tennis player or not, but it feels bad that he has to try to do all the growing he has to do in the public spotlight. Or whatever maybe I enjoy it. Maybe I, like Casper Ruud, am secretly always hoping for spicy drama.
This is already too long, but there’s so much to unpack. This has really been a great and storied tournament, and if it’s Nadal’s last he has the right conditions to go out on top. For all of Ruud’s solid play, it feels like he presents a simpler challenge for Nadal than Zverev. Zverev’s serve means Nadal has to return from extremely deep so he starts out with excellent position. Cilic was able to really attack Ruud’s second serves today, but just made too many errors. You won’t see this from Nadal, and Nadal inside the baseline is going to choose the right shot combination to win the point very often. Nadal will be fully rested for this, but the foot issue is still a hindrance. If he drops in level like he has in a few sets so far, Ruud will be able to take advantage. Zverev made inroads into Nadal’s service games largely because of his weight of shot (broke him 4 times in the second set which may be a record). He hits the ball bigger than pretty much anyone off the backhand wing and the humid conditions made it tough for Nadal’s forehand to really take control of those rallies. It will likely rain again on Sunday so the roof may be closed, but Ruud is not the server Zverev is (double faults aside), and he only really crushes the ball on his forehand. Also, despite the theoretically worst conditions and opponent for Nadal, he won. It just seems to take a monumental effort to get past Rafa, and I think Ruud’s backhand will have a tough time with Rafa’s forehand since it’s their first time playing.
It’s hard to do anything here but pick Rafa. The guy has 3 sets between him and history and it’s incredibly cliched but I don’t think anyone can stop him. He’s already beaten two players that would be a solid favorite in their current form against Ruud, and he’s something like 110-3 at this event. It’s an unheard of feat in a career that has been an absolute gift. Nadal in 3.
Swiatek vs Gauff :
Every round this event I broke down the danger each opponent posed for Iga Swiatek. The story has been Iga will win, but it could be close “if”. Those ifs just haven’t arrived. Big servers and defensive baseliners have taken their turns trying to stop Swiatek, and neither of these formulas have worked. Riske was unable to make inroads into Swiatek’s service games. Zheng was able to play even when she was peaking, but a slight drop in level made the sets look like a foregone conclusion. Defensive baseliners of great quality were the task at hand in the last two rounds, and this is where things get tough for maiden finalist Cori Gauff. Pegula is a player whose style is very similar to Gauff. She hits solid and is sneakily quick. She managed just 5 games. Kasatkina is a player almost as fast as Gauff, and with all the variety and accuracy in the world. She managed just 3 games.
Swiatek has been terribly aggressive from 0-0 in these matches, and this has caused early excitement followed by quiet resignation. When her opponents are fresh, they hit a bit cleaner, they cover a bit faster, and Swiatek makes errors as a result. She’s given away a few early breaks and I’ve labelled her play as “impatient”. The joke is on me though, as her impatience is well thought out. Iga’s ability to come up with the next offensive shot is relentless, and no matter how many of her matches I watch she still surprises me with the extra sharp short angles she’s able to find at the end of a long rally. Pointblank, she’s just outhitting the rest of the tour and the nonstop aggression is forcing her opponents into defending. When you’re defending all the time, there’s an anticipated pressure on every shot, so the tendency to try to go a little bigger or create your own offense in order to buy recovery time can be there. This leads to errors, and opening up angles that the player is not quite in position to defend.
Gauff’s clay season last season was a great success, as she went 17-4. It’s safe to say she’s eclipsed her achievements from last year, but the beginning of her run was a straight sets defeat against Kasatkina who was just given a swift loss by Swiatek. Swiatek’s dismantling of her opponents defense has her perfectly primed for this match. On paper, Swiatek has probably had the more difficult draw, but both players were conveniently spared of a few big names along the way (Fernandez’s foot issue against Trevisan, Halep’s panic attack against Zheng, Stephens clearing out the bottom section of the draw and then falling a bit flat). On paper, books agree. The price for Swiatek here is a whopping -700 on most sites. That’s pretty unheard of for a finals, but remember that this is the culmination of weeks of Swaitek hype and an unbeaten streak that harkens back to Barty and Williams days. People have been declaring Swiatek the champion for weeks and now it looks like it’s one match away, so the books are actively trying to price people out of the market.
The problem with declaring Swiatek a lock for the title is the depth of her opponent. One press conference from Gauff (last night’s was particularly impressive) makes it clear that she is going to continue to improve at tennis. Barbed questions came, clickbait suggestions flowed, and she navigated every single one of them like a pro. I can’t say enough about how absolutely refreshing it was to listen to her answer openly but with measured responses and self-awareness. A phenom with such maturity at a young age is a player that will make the necessary adjustments, so the question is whether she makes them here or in future events. We’ve all seen Gauff race to the finish line with unforced errors and impatience. It seems sometimes that her timing is off and that there is no plan B. It makes it daunting for opponents that this week she’s been almost error free. Trevisan looked a bit flat in her semifinal as far as serving and driving her forehand, but some of her prowess the previous round could have been a result of Fernandez’s foot issue slowing her down. Trevisan’s level didn’t seem to matter a great deal though, because Gauff was able to run down every ball and put it back in play. Her defending this week has been the type that will allow her to string together long stretches of solid play on tour, and I think this is one of the last periods where unforced errors are an issue for her.
Coco is hitting her backhand to great effect, and her proactive footwork on short balls is keeping her opponents guessing as she’s mixing in dropshots and power and height equally. I’ll point to Djokovic as another player who thrives by not hitting the open shot, but a good shot. It may seem a bit too patient to work extra shots or avoid hitting directly to the open court, but as an opponent it freezes your own positioning when you can’t just transition to the shot you’ve left open. It’s weird to have overlooked Gauff’s star power for so long, but the tennis tour is so full of talented kids who are just emotionally kids. The fame, the money, and the lifestyle just lend themselves to letdowns, and Gauff’s trajectory has been steadily up but her reliability hasn’t been there. As a betting analyst, her stock hasn’t been high. As a fan of tennis though, I really couldn’t be happier to consider her as a future grandslam champion.
I don’t know if anyone can really crack Swiatek without bringing their peak level of tennis, and most players this week didn’t do that. The unsung heros put in the work, the hungry next generation fought through, and Swiatek is just a tier above them in terms of experience and peak level. Gauff is similarly fast around the court as Kasatkina, but hits a much heavier ball. She’ll make one extra get, and she’ll be able to pressure Swiatek when she has time. Her serve is certainly a good weapon, but the first serve percentage can suffer at times and Swiatek is up there with Collins as far as aggression on return. This has been a great run for Gauff and completely deserved, but I think her rise to the top is going to be a steady one rather than a sudden title win. Gauff’s level this week has been the best she’s displayed on tour, and she hasn’t dropped a set, but this would be an absolutely legendary win. For Gauff, these titles will come, but it’s going to take a level of offense that doesn’t seem to exist right now on tour to beat Iaa. Swiatek in 2.