• Spaniard beats Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
• Nadal has won 11 of past 14 tournaments at Roland Garros
Rafael Nadal’s place in the pantheon of tennis was secured some time ago, but the Spaniard’s 11th coronation at Roland Garros after beating Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 42 minutes on a warm, humid Sunday afternoon, lifted him further from his mortal rivals.
No-one can catch Nadal now. Not on clay. Victory confirmed his world No 1 ranking and he heads for Wimbledon next month restored to near his best form on his favourite surface. He moves alongside Margaret Court for the most titles at the same slam, 11. His total of 17 majors edges him closer to the 20 owned by 36-year-old Roger Federer, who will be favourite to add to that at the All England Club, where he has been champion eight times.
It was fitting that Court’s compatriot, Ken Rosewall presented Nadal with the Coupe de Mousquetaires in the venue that will be torn down and rebuilt when everyone has left.
Rosewall, Laver and Federer are the only other players to have won three or more slams past the age of 30. History rushes to embrace Nadal with every passing triumph.
Nadal admitted courtside, he was “scared” when cramp struck him in the third set.
“I had to be very aggressive, he’s a very difficult opponent. I had a tough moment in the third set when I had a little bit of cramp. I was a little bit scared. But that is sport. It was very humid and he pushed me to limit.
“I’m very happy to win the tournament. I played a very good match today. Well played to Dominic. He’s a good friend, one of these players the Tour needs. I played my best match today, in the final.”
The first set was as curiously disjointed as was Nadal’s against Diego Schwartzman, and Thiem’s second against the Italian Matto Berrettini, although there were passages of excellence to blot out a shopping list of errors, from framed ground strokes to wayward serves – including one double-fault by Nadal which bounced in front of the net, much to the amusement of the crowd.
It could hardly have started better for the champion, as he held to love and broke to 15 – but Thiem, almost despite himself, hit back quickly to stay in touch. From there to the first bell, they traded quality blows and miss-hits, botched drop-shots and a couple of delightful lobs. There was not discernible pattern to it.
Thiem’s problem was his serve – his standout weapon this fortnight – which dipped to an alarming 54% legality at first attempt, neutering his game plan of all-out aggression. Countering his best efforts, Nadal received from 10 yards behind the baseline, but struggled for rhythm after that whirlwind start, and was grateful for his opponent’s stuttering levels.
The pressure, meanwhile, mounted on Thiem’s first serve, and he dumped a forehand to hand Nadal three set points. Another wild forehand long sealed it.
A burst of invective, picked up by the microphones, aptly reflected Thiem’s annoyance with himself. An inordinately long bathroom break by Nadal probably did not help his mood.
Thiem’s jitters did not ease in the second. His serve was his blessing and his curse. While he continued to pin Nadal near the backboards, he double-faulted for the fourth time and forced to save four break points before hitting long.
He was back to where he had been at the start of the match, and, with four games in a row under his bandana, Nadal was beginning to buzz once more, when Thiem won six points in a row and forced the Spaniard to hold through deuce, but he held for 4-1 at what he probably hoped was the half-way mark. The championship was definitely his to lose from there.
Thiem was not going quietly, though, holding to love for the second time. But it was coming together for him in bunches; what he needed was a decent run of high-grade tennis to make Nadal nervous. He was hurting him, and had a look on his serve in the seventh game, but couldn’t quite keep him on the canvas.
When Nadal served out to lead by two sets after an hour and 52 minutes on a warm, humid afternoon, Thiem’s mission impossible turned into a public ordeal, albeit one he was privileged to endure.
He showed enormous heart to hold from 0-40 at the start of the third set but there was a growing sense that he was postponing the inevitable, despite raising his level.
A tired backhand to drop serve in the third game pretty much sealed his fate. Thiem has come back from 0-2 down twice in his career and, for the second year in a row, was the only player to beat Nadal on clay coming to Paris, but he had dug a hole so deep the diggers arriving on Monday might disappear into it.
There was a pause at 30-love when Nadal needed wrapping on his fingers repaired, although the physio looked also to be treating him for cramp in his left wrist. He did not seem inconvenienced when he resumed, and he held for 3-1 – but he had further work on his wrist and arm after Thiem held his serve.
He memorably collapsed under the table when struck by a sudden cramp attack during a press conference at the 2011 US Open, so he might have circulation issues on days such as this one.
Thiem, meanwhile, had become a mere spectator to the drama and the occasion, unable to capitalise on this sliver of an opening, as Nadal motored on towards the inevitable cascade of applause awaiting him at the finish line.
He stopped only for more courtside massage before stepping up to serve out the match that had long lost meaning as a contest on a court he loves more than any other.
SOURCE: GUARDIAN UK