Rafael Nadal once again proved that he is the undisputed emperor on clay courts by defeating his newest challenger Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 at Roland Garros.
It was a match in two halves. For the first two sets, it was a battle of equals. Nadal forced a break in the first set, while Thiem returned the favor in the second.
The loss of a set in the French Open final, for the first time since 2004, spurred Nadal into the beast mode. In the next two sets, Thiem managed to win just two games. It was not that he was a hapless spectator. He tried everything he could. But nothing went beyond Nadal.
Records Galore for Nadal
This is his 12th French Open crown. No other player has won a grand slam title 12 times. Just to give a perspective, the player behind Nadal in this particular record is Martina Navratilova, who won the Wimbledon title nine times.
Overall, Nadal has 18 grand slam titles, two behind Roger Federer’s 20. Serena Williams, with 23 titles, is the record-holder, followed by Steffi Graf, who won 22 titles.
Nadal showed in the match why it is almost impossible to beat him on clay when he is in the mood. There is virtually no shot that he cannot retrieve. Thiem hit some seemingly surefire winners, only to see Nadal retrieving them after frantic running and skillful sliding. Not only he retrieves, but his returns are studded with power and spin too.
A Match of Two Halves
Thiem was the early aggressor in the first set. It looked as though he had the confidence of beating Nadal in their previous encounters on clay. He forced Nadal to run from one end to the other. He hit some terrific shots in sensational angles. However, the Spaniard was prepared for all those and some more.
In a match of high intensity, it was clear that one of them had to blink. As it turned out, Thiem blinked first, and Nadal broke him and won the first set 6-3.
In the second set, Thiem appeared more determined. He was more measured on rallies and more precise with his strokes. He refused to blink in the second set. Soon he broke Nadal and won the second set 7-5.
The loss of a set caused some mysterious transformation in Nadal. He was at his majestic self in the next two sets. Thiem, in fact, was not that worse than in the first two sets. But Nadal rose to the topmost level that a human being can reach for playing tennis on clay. Thiem had no answer for that. He lost the next two sets 6-1, 6-1. Game over. Nadal had his 12th French Open crown.
When receiving the trophy, Nadal was all praise of the young Austrian. He said:
“First thing I want to say is congrats to Dominic. I feel sorry. He deserves it. He has absolute intensity and passion for this sport. He’s such a hard worker. I wish him all the best for the future.”