Five Takeaways from 2022 Roland Garros: King of Clay reclaims his throne

Spain's Rafael Nadal lifts the cup after defeating Norway's Casper Ruud in their final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Sunday, June 5, 2022 in Paris. Nadal won 6-3, 6-3, 6-0. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

The powdery red dirt has been evenly levelled and swept.

The measured white sidelines meticulously cleaned.

2022 Roland Garros is now in the rear-view mirror, as the tennis calendar turns its page on the second major of the season.

Rafael Nadal does what he almost always seems to do, while Poland’s Iga Swiatek is achieving records that boast her name in the same company as Serena and Venus Williams.

Here are my five takeaways from this year’s French Open:

Iga is a class above the rest

When Australian Ashleigh Barty shocked the women’s game, announcing her sudden retirement at the age of 25, many wondered if her absence would leave a void on the tour.

Instead, Poland’s Iga Swiatek has not only seized the reins since Barty left, she has also produced a stretch of domination the WTA has not witnessed in over 20 years.

The world number one captured her second career Roland Garros title dropping just one set across seven matches, and confidently defeating American Coco Gauff 6-1, 6-3 in the championship match.

The wins over the fortnight in Paris have extended her winning streak to 35 matches, which ties Venus Williams for the most on tour in 22 seasons.

Swiatek is one of just eight players in the Open Era to win 35 or more consecutive matches.

She also joins Serena and Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova as the eighth active player with multiple grand slam titles.

Swiatek dropped just one set in seven matches, a 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Qinwen Zheng, and with six consecutive titles has also matched a streak of singles crowns by former Belgian star Justine Henin set back in 2007-2008.

One must wonder when, or if, Iga will lose again this season.

Ruthless Rafa won’t be denied

The King of Clay has reclaimed his throne.

Rafael Nadal’s record shattering performances in Paris carry on, 17 years after he claimed his maiden title.

Nadal routinely outclassed first-time major finalist Casper Ruud 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 to win a 14th French Open, and record 22nd career grand slam singles crown.

After the challenges he withstood through the lead up and middle rounds of the event, the final felt like a mere formality.

Nadal arrived in Paris surrounded by question marks regarding his health, as he played just two clay court lead up events in Madrid and Rome, failing to advance past the quarterfinals in either tournament.

He suffered a three-set loss to Denis Shapovalov in Rome, hampered by his chronic foot injury which flared up badly during the match.

Rafa, however, was rewarded through his patience and brought his doctor along to France to help with various treatments between matches.

In certain cases, it was sorely needed.

Nadal survived an inspired test in the fourth round from Felix Auger-Aliassime, narrowly overcoming the Canadian in a gruelling five setter.

That set up the blockbuster match of tournament, a 59th career meeting between Nadal and his rival, Novak Djokovic.

Late into the Paris night, he defeated the world number one in an epic affair 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6.

Rafa was potentially on the ropes in his semi-final, competing in brutally humid indoor conditions against Alexander Zverev before the German suffered an ugly fall, tearing ligaments in his foot. Zverev was forced to retire from the match, trailing 7-6, 6-6 through 3 hours of play.

After so much tennis, a simple, straightforward final was surely just what the doctor ordered. Nadal defeated Ruud in 2 hours, 18 minutes.

With the victory, he improves his overall singles record at Roland Garros to a stupefying 112-3 and becomes the oldest singles champion in the tournament’s history.

He has also widened the gap in the grand slam tally, sitting two majors ahead of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, leading 22-20-20.

The GOAT (greatest of all time) will carry on indefinitely, and Rafa has a host of strong arguments to suggest he claims that mantle.

New faces break through

There were plenty of career firsts at this year’s edition of Roland Garros, with a handful of young, rising stars reaching new heights.

While Norway’s Casper Ruud has established himself as a top 10 player on the ATP circuit with his deft skills on clay court, and winning eight career singles titles, he was still viewed as more of a long shot to achieve a major final at this stage of his career.

Avoiding land mines on a lighter bottom half of the draw helped pave the way for his historic run.

Ruud opened his event with a four-set victory over French veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and aided in the emotional goodbye of the beloved competitor, who had announced Paris was his last ever tournament.

He then gained steam through the first week with a dramatic five set victory over Italian Lorenzo Sonego, and confident four-set win over world number 13, Hubert Hurkacz.

In the final four, he defeated experienced veteran Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to become the first Norwegian man to reach a Grand Slam final.

His efforts in Paris now push him to a new career high ranking of six.

Meanwhile, Danish teenager Holger Rune, an immense talent with future world number one aspirations, produced a stunning run to the quarterfinals.

The 19-year-old knocked out Canadian Denis Shapovalov to begin his campaign, before pushing into the second week of action, and then delivering perhaps the biggest upset in the men’s field.

Rune thoroughly outplayed last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, earning a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory with his strong blend of precision power and deft touch.

He will debut in the top 30 of the rankings on Monday.

Coco time

She’s one of the most electric young players the WTA has to offer and is more than living up to the hype.

18-year-old American Coco Gauff continues to soar toward the top of the women’s game, as she reached the finals of both singles and doubles this fortnight in Paris.

The talented, athletic competitor used her remarkable court coverage, return skills and powerful two-handed backhand to carry her to impressive singles wins over Kaia Kanepi, Elise Mertens, and Sloane Stephens.

While she was overwhelmed by Iga Swiatek (to be fair, who wasn’t?) in the final, she and fellow countrywoman Jessica Pegula also enjoyed a great run of success in the doubles field, with five victories before losing to the French team of Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia in three sets.

Gauff already has six career WTA titles (two in singles, four in doubles) to her name and will make the transition to the grass courts and soon prepare for the All England Club.

The Wimbledon crowd will remember her fondly, as just three seasons ago she became the youngest player to qualify for the tournament in the Open Era, advancing to the fourth round back in when she was just 15 years, 3 months of age.

Leylah and Felix shine bright in the City of Lights

Two Canadians achieved career best results at Roland Garros this past fortnight in Paris.

Leylah Annie Fernandez, a French Open junior champion in 2019, produced her most dynamic and skilled brand of tennis yet as a professional at Roland Garros.

Her tenacious fighting spirit led her to thrilling three set wins over topflight competition like Belinda Bencic and Amanda Anisimova, as she advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time.

It is fair to wonder how much further she could have gone had it not been for a stress fracture in her foot.

Fernandez was visibly hindered and could not run at full speed against Italian Martina Trevisan. Incredibly, she still forced the match the distance before bowing out 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

The 19-year-old will now rest and recover and unfortunately miss Wimbledon but should be healthy in time for the North American hard-court swing and National Bank Open in Toronto.

21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime put aside his previous disappointments at Roland Garros to reach the second week in Paris for the first time in his young career.

The Montreal native had never won a match at the event heading into this year’s edition, but escape a first round scare and fought valiantly past Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

The win gave the Canadian a boost of momentum and confidence, as he reeled off a pair of straight sets victories before setting up a blockbuster showdown with Rafael Nadal.

Admirably, Felix gave Nadal his toughest test at all at this year’s French Open, falling 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the fourth-round thriller.

The match lasted four hours, 31 minutes. “It’s always a constant work of progress, trying to be a better player all the time,” said the humbled Canadian, in defeat.

“I think the goal for me is to be able to play at a very high intensity for five sets. I’m in the right direction. Hopefully next year I can go even further.”

Auger-Aliassime quickly resumes his season this week in Hertogenbosch at the Rosmalen Grass Court Championships, where he’ll be the #2 seed.

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