French Open

Roland Garros Men's Semifinal Previews: Marin Cilic vs. Casper Ruud; Alexander Zverev vs. Rafael Nadal

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French Open

Preview: Will Rafael Nadal move to 14-0 in Roland Garros championships against first-time major finalist Casper Ruud?

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French Open

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French Open

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French Open

Casper Ruud beat Marin Cilic at Roland Garros by channeling the man he’ll play in his first major final: Rafael Nadal

By Steve Tignor Jun 03, 2022

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PRESS CONFERENCE: Marin Cilic speaks after reaching the semifinals of the French Open for the first time
In the semifinals we have a 13-time tournament champion, and three players who have yet to reach a French Open final.

In the semifinals we have a 13-time tournament champion, and three players who have yet to reach a French Open final.

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Alexander Zverev vs. Rafael Nadal

By eliminating Novak Djokovic, Nadal makes himself the solid-to-heavy favorite to win his 14th title at Roland Garros. That number, 14, should be enough to tell you why. None of the other three semifinalists has even reached a final there, let alone won a title.

But Zverev made it to the semifinals last year, and he’s coming off a cathartic win over Carlos Alcaraz. Typically, when he runs into a top-tier opponent at a major, Zverev can’t find a way past him. This time, despite some shaky moments and the traditional double-fault disease, he did. (Zverev had never beaten a Top 10 player at a major.) Just as encouraging for the German is the fact that he has three wins in nine meetings with Nadal, and is 1-4 against him on clay—when you’re taking about Rafa, that qualifies as an excellent record.

Will Zverev show us a different, looser, more confident side of himself, considering that he has beaten Alcaraz, and he should feel as if he has nothing to lose against Nadal? I would say yes—right up until the moment when he has something to lose. If Zverev was tight trying to close it out against Alcaraz—and he was—he’ll be much more so when he’s trying to do the same thing against Rafa.

As for Nadal, he’ll feel the pressure that comes with being the favorite, and having a golden opportunity to get to Grand Slam title No. 22. But he has felt that pressure before, and not succumbed to it. If this match is anything like his last two, against Djokovic and Felix Auger-Aliassime, Rafa will find his best when it matters most. Winner: Nadal

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Marin Cilic vs. Casper Ruud

Nadal vs. Zverev is not a surprising semifinal, but this one is relatively unexpected. Cilic has never been this far at Roland Garros, and Ruud has never been this far at any major. But both have earned their spots.

Cilic crushed the No. 2 seed, Daniil Medvedev, and then survived four hours with the No. 7 seed, Andrey Rublev, to win in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Cilic had already reached the final at the other three majors; now he has a semifinal sweep at all four. He has done it by essentially playing hard-court tennis on a clay court, and attacking everything he can. He trounced Rublev, no slouch in the pace department, in the winner department, 88 to 35. Cilic hasn’t quite been redlining his game, but he hasn’t been far off.

Ruud got a little lucky to start the tournament, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hurt his shoulder just as he was about to serve for the fourth set. Since them, Ruud has won three hard-fought battles, with Lorenzo Sonego in five sets, and Hubert Hurkacz and Holger Rune in four. It was only a matter of time before the eighth-ranked Ruud make a Slam semi, and Roland Garros was the logical place for this ultra-solid baseliner, who has trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy, to do it first.

Ruud and Cilic have played twice, once on clay in 2020 and once on hard courts in 2021, and Ruud has won both times. If all things are equal, Ruud should win again. He’s 10 years younger than Cilic (23 to 33), his game is a more natural fit for clay, he’s hitting his forehand as hard as anyone, and it seems as if he won’t get tired no matter how long he’s out there. But if Cilic plays the way he did in his last two rounds, with maximum aggression and accuracy, he may have the advantage. Which means this match will likely lie on Cilic’s racquet. We’ll see what comes off it. Winner: Ruud