World No. 8 Casper Ruud grew up looking up to Rafael Nadal and at the 2006 French Open the former world No. 1 signed a ball for the Norwegian. Ruud's father, Christian, recalled taking his son to the French Open in 2006. "[What Casper Ruud remembers from the time I took him to the 2006 Roland Garros] is watching Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic play," Christian said on the latest episode of the ATP Tennis Radio Podcast, as quoted on Sportskeeda.
"Novak ended up pulling out after a couple of sets with an injury, but [my son remembers] just being there, watching, getting an autograph from Rafa."
Ruud was absolutely thrilled after a Nadal autograph
16 years later, Ruud is becoming one of the best players on the Tour.
Ruud is enjoying a career-high ranking of No. 8 and is establishing himself as one of the best clay court players on the Tour. "We went into the player's lounge and Rafa signed a big tennis ball like you see all the kids have," Christian said.
"I think it put a little dream in his head. He was already playing tennis by then, of course, but it motivated him to say to himself that he wanted to be here one day like this guy." Christian admitted that getting a chance to practice at the Rafa Nadal Academy was a big step for the Norwegian.
"When Casper Ruud was [a teenager], Carlos Costa came to me during the French Open and was wondering if he wanted to come [to the Rafa Nadal Academy] and try it out," Christian said. "We had already been there for a week and practiced with Rafa a few months before, so we kind of knew what it was.
It was a big step for us." Meanwhile, Ruud defended his Buenos Aires title last week after beating Diego Schwartzman in the final. Unfortunately, Ruud sustained an abdominal injury in the final so he pulled out of Rio de Janeiro and Santiago.