Seventeen years after becoming one of the world's best players, Rafael Nadal is still in that group! The Spaniard has been the leader of the ATP Race in 2022 despite injuries and setbacks, performing on a high level at Majors and earning a chance to add the 22nd title on Sunday.
Rafa celebrated his 36th birthday on Friday and received the birthday cake following his semi-final clash against Alexander Zverev. It was Nadal's eighth Roland Garros match on his birthday, and he scored the seventh victory when Zverev retired in the closing stages of the second set due to an ankle injury.
Thus, Nadal became the fourth 36-year-old player in a Major final in the Open era and the oldest one in Paris! Rafa came to Roland Garros with question marks over his form and physical strength, struggling in Madrid and Rome and hoping for a better run at his beloved event.
The Spaniard made a strong start and claimed the opening three wins in straight sets to preserve his foot.
Rafael Nadal celebrated his 36th birthday on Friday in Paris.
Nadal had to prepare for three challenging encounters in the following rounds, and he survived them to find himself in the 14th Roland Garros final from 18 trips to Paris.
In the fourth round, Rafa played a rare clay-court five-setter against Felix Auger-Aliassime, struggling to find his strokes but raising the level in the final set to avoid an early exit. World no. 1 Novak Djokovic awaited in the quarter-final, seeking his second straight Roland Garros win over the king of clay.
Instead, Rafa was the more determined player and earned a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 triumph in four hours and 12 minutes. Nadal was off to a better start in three out of four sets, and he survived a massive scare in the fourth to seal the deal without playing a decider.
Djokovic trailed 6-2, 3-0 before firing up his forehand and taking six of the last seven games of the second set for 6-4 after a marathon. Rafa restored the order in the third with a double break and moved closer to the finish line.
Novak made one last push in set number four, opening a 5-2 gap and wasting two set points on serve at 5-3. Nadal saved them, broke back and moved over the top in the tie break. The Spaniard faced Alexander Zverev under a roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier, and it developed into a fearsome battle.
Two rivals needed over three hours to reach the second set tie break, with Nadal stealing the first after fending off four set points. Alexander pushed Rafa to the limits before injuring his right ankle in the 12th hame of the second set, leaving the court in the wheelchair and retiring a few minutes later. Nadal will face Casper Ruud en route to the 14th Roland Garros crown.