After a second set scare, Rafael Nadal rolled to his 12th French Open title Sunday beating Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in a rematch of their final a year ago at Roland Garros.
“It is truly incredible. I cannot explain it,” Nadal said after holding his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires.
“I want to say is congratulations to Dominic,” he added. “I feel sorry because he deserves it. I really hope he has chance to win in the future. He has unbelievable passion and intensity for this sport.”
Nadal and Thiem began the match as advertised with both bashing away from deep behind the baseline. As Thiem would drop balls short, Nadal would pounce. As Thiem would hit drop shots, Nadal would also pounce. The would in play just as much as the baseline throughout the match.
The Austrian, though, was having success here and there, and he immediately got back on level after Nadal broke for 3-2. But Rafa, maybe angered by losing the lead, upped his play taking the last four games of a 54 minute first set.
The second set turned into a serving fest as both guys cruised in their service games quickly and efficiently. Nadal held at love no fewer than four times and Thiem nearly matched him. But with a tiebreak looming, Rafa suddenly faced 15-40 down two sets points and Thiem took his first set in 11 tries against the Spaniard at Roland Garros.
Tied 1-apiece, Nadal left the court for a bathroom break. Things got interesting, for a few minutes at least. When he returned, he resumed his serving onslaught while Thiem saw his play drop. In a blink, the Nadal had built a 2-break insurmountable 4-1 lead which he rode to a 2-1 advantage.
Sensing maybe the fight was over, Thiem settled down in the fourth, making Nadal save break chances in his first two games. But Thiem couldn’t save them on his own serve, and once Rafa went up 3-0, it was over. Nadal finished winning 12 of the last 14 games after Thiem got that set.
“The beginning was unbelievable intensity of the match,” said Thiem. “And I dropped a little bit towards the end of the first set. Then I played the way I should play in the second set, very aggressive.
“After those two sets, I dropped a little bit my level. Rafa, who won this tournament 12 times, he stepped on me. Afterwards, it got really tough for me. He played outstanding today, because especially in the first two sets I played very good tennis. What he was performing I think is unbelievable, really.
“There has to be a reason why he’s that successful. I mean, he won 18 Grand Slams, which is a big number, which is only two less than Roger. So definitely he’s one of the greatest of all time. Today, I saw why.”
Thiem did well beating Novak Djokovic but having to play three straight days and then beating Nadal in a best-of-5 was just too big of an ask for the 25-year-old.
“That’s a unique and also brutal thing, I guess, in our sport, in tennis, that I won six amazing matches. I beat yesterday one of the biggest legends of our game. Not even 24 hours later, I have to step on court against another amazing legend of our game, against the best clay court player of all time,” Thiem said. “That also shows how difficult nowadays it is to win a Grand Slam. That’s what I meant yesterday. I was feeling so happy, with such a good win, and today, of course, I lost. I failed to make my biggest dream in my tennis life come true, so I don’t feel that good like yesterday.”
Nadal finished with 38 winners to 31 unforced. Thiem the opposite with 31 winners to 38 unforced. Rafa also won 73% on both first and second serves and was 23/27 at the net. And in the third set, Nadal didn’t lose a single point on serve!
“Being able, at this time in my career, to get another victory is obviously a great satisfaction and a great happiness,” said Nadal after the 3-hour win. “I thank all the people who support me, my family, my team for their great support, which I need, which is necessary for me.
“He had served well. Every time I was in a bad position after he served because, with someone like Dominic, it’s very difficult to return. He hits very hard. I managed to hit the first ball from a good position. But with him, it’s very difficult to return when he’s in attacking position.
“So I analyzed things, and I felt that I had to solve this particular problem. For the rest, I was playing well. But the important thing seemed to be not to give him the advantage when he was serving well and I had problems returning.”
The King of Clay also wins his 18th Grand Slam which puts him just two behind Roger Federer who has to be getting worried.
“I never tried to think about, well, am I gonna catch Roger or not,” Nadal said. “Being honest, I am not very worried about this stuff, no? You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden. That’s not the way that I see the life.
“It’s a motivation, but it’s not my obsession. If you ask me whether I would like it, of course; is it a goal in my career, no. It’s not what makes me get up every morning or go and train and play. It’s not the way in which I view the sport, and it’s not the way in which I consider my sports career.
“I want to follow my own journey, give myself the best opportunities, and give myself the possibility of competing at the highest level. And if I end up in a position like that of today where I’m the one who won most Roland-Garros titles in history, well, all very well.
“But I don’t think my future will be worth any more if I equal Federer’s record or if I do something like Djokovic or whatever.”
The win was also Nadal’s 82nd of his career and 59th on clay. He has now won his last 23 matches at Roland Garros and overall is 117-2 in best-of-5 set matches on his favorite surface.
The 33-year-old Nadal said he won’t play any grass warm-ups to stay as fresh as possible for Wimbledon where he took eventual champion Djokovic to five sets under the roof. Rafa has more titles to win.
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