WATCH: Nadal speaks with Wertheim after semifinals

During the Big 3 era, there have been plenty of cases of young players facing their idols in big matches. By the time a legendary figure is into his 30s, the way Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are, pretty much everyone you play is going to have grown up watching you on TV.

But have any of the Big 3 faced a literal student of theirs before? That’s what will happen when Ruud, who started training at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca in 2018, plays Rafa Nadal himself in the Roland Garros final on Sunday. Ruud says he has watched all 13 of Nadal’s previous title matches in Court Philippe Chatrier, so there’s a certain poetry to the fact that the two of them will have their first career meeting there.

“I have a huge respect for him,” Nadal said. “First of all in terms of a friend, he has a great character.”

“I’ve been looking up to Rafa,” Ruud said. “He never complains, he’s a perfect example of how I think you should behave on court: Never give up, never complain.”


Ruud is bidding for his first Top 10 victory on the major stage against a competitor who is 111-3 at Roland Garros.

Ruud is bidding for his first Top 10 victory on the major stage against a competitor who is 111-3 at Roland Garros.

So does the student have a chance of beating the master? If you’ve been watching Nadal your entire life, the way Ruud has, you know what his record is in Roland Garros finals—13-0. And you know the quality of the players—Djokovic, Federer, Wawrinka, Ferrer, Thiem—he has beaten in those finals.

“It’s obviously going to be tough,” Ruud said. “We all know what a great champion he is and how well he plays in the biggest moments and the biggest matches.”

“I’m just going to try to enjoy it. I will be the underdog, and I will try to, you know, tonight and tomorrow night dream about great winners and unbelievable rallies, because that’s what it’s going to take if I want to have any chance, and I will need to play my best tennis ever.

“But I still have to believe that I can do it, and I think part of my game today was working very well.”


A lot of Ruud’s game was working very well in his win over Marin Cilic on Friday, as a matter of fact. He hit 16 aces, and considering that Nadal has been struggling to convert break points of late, Ruud’s underrated serve will surely help him out of a few jams in the final. Ruud also hit 41 winners and made just 21 errors against Cilic. His forehand is among the most powerful in the game, and he can buggy-whip it at a sharp crosscourt angle and force Rafa to stretch out wide on his backhand side.

Ruud says he has never beaten Nadal in practice matches at the academy, though a lot of the sets have been close. He may be surprised by how well he does on Sunday. At 36, Nadal can come out of the gates a little slowly and nervously these days, as he did against Auger Aliassime and Zverev. And Ruud will be able to do damage with his serve and forehand. So it’s easy to imagine him winning a set or building a lead, or at least forcing Rafa into another Houdini act to escape.

In the end, though, the match may be decided by expectations. One of these players will be happy having made his first Grand Slam final, and having faced his idol, even if he loses to him. The other will only be happy with winning, because that’s all he’s ever done here. Winner: Nadal