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“There’s nothing you can do in the end” – The Ice Man describes playing Nadal at Roland-Garros

In a recent ‘All on the Table’ episode released by UTS, Casper Ruud has revealed what it feels like to play 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros.

The conversation, between Casper “The Ice Man” Ruud, Alex “The Demon” de Minaur and Dominic “Thieminho” Thiem, occurred over a meal in Norway, ahead of the recent UTS Oslo event. While everything from Covid-19 to the Olympics was discussed, one of the things that all three could agree on was just how tough playing Nadal on clay was.

Thiem has played Nadal four times at Roland-Garros, and has only ever taken one set off the Spaniard. Ruud’s experience has been less extensive, but equally as brutal.

“He just locks you in the backhand” – Ruud on Nadal’s clay court tactics

Reflecting on his matches against Nadal, Ruud explained what the 14-time Roland-Garros champion is like to play against.

“His tactic, I’m not going to say it’s simple, but he just kind of locks you in the backhand,” began Ruud. “And there’s nothing you can do in the end. He makes it too physical in the end. 

“To win the point, you feel like you have to hit a winner from up here (gestures above his head on the backhand side) every single time because somehow he makes it over to your backhand everytime. 

“He just repeats, repeats, repeats. If you don’t rip a backhand cross-court, it doesn’t punish him enough. He can hit this one blindfolded (imitates forehand) and hit it this much from the sideline and this much from the baseline (gestures very small distance). That’s what I felt.”

The Ice Man recalls playing Nadal in 2022 Roland-Garros final

Ruud has met Nadal just the once at Roland-Garros, in the 2022 final. That encounter did not go well for the Norwegian, with Ruud losing 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in his maiden Grand Slam final.

“My backhand wasn’t near as good as it had to be to kind of challenge him,” confessed Ruud.

“I played him when he couldn’t even walk on his foot. He had that local anesthesia. I actually met him the next day and he was on crutches. He couldn’t walk. 

“Even though I lost badly, I was actually thinking the night before, ‘You never know, maybe he’s so hurt that you know, he can’t even walk, maybe if there’s one year where someone might surprise them it could be this one.’ Because everyone knew he was injured, you know what I mean? But he beat everyone along the way.

“He was, I’m not going to say fortunate, but he had a really tough match going with Zverev in the semi-final. They played three hours and didn’t finish the second set. If that was, maybe a little bit longer, who knows, I don’t know…”

En route to the 2022 final, Nadal had played an epic semi-final against Alexander Zverev, with the match ending due to a horrific ankle injury that his opponent suffered in the second set.

Players in this article

The Ice Man

Casper Ruud