Rafael Nadal is once again the French Open champion after a stunning performance to down Dominic Thiem in four sets in Paris. The Austrian may well have won a set on this occasion but the reality is that the 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory for Nadal was just as much of an uncompetitive match as their straight sets clash last year. Nadal has taken over the top spot in the ATP Tour Race but does lag way behind Novak Djokovic in the rolling tour rankings.
Thiem was feisty early on and did break first in a high quality first set, but would be unable to hold on as he dropped the last four games of the set to fall into an even more impossible position. With Nadal 100-0 in best of five matches on clay, there will not have been much expectation of Thiem mounting a comeback. He tightened up on serve and would eventually reap the rewards at the end of the second. Nadal had dropped just 1 point on serve in the second set up until 5-6, only to throw in a disastrous game to allow Thiem to break.
That gargantuan effort from Thiem in taking a set looked to have taken a lot out of the Austrian, who was blown out in the third set. Nadal set the tone with a break to love, drawing a number of errors from Thiem. He won 11 straight points to begin, adding the second break with a punishing forehand down the line. He closed out the set with another break which gave him the advantage of serving first in the fourth.
The Austrian tried to put up a fight against the steamroller of Nadal, earning a break point to begin the fourth. It was wiped out and with it, the last of his chances of winning the match. With the defending champion imperious on serve, chances were few and far between. He added the insurance break for 5-1, duly serving it out to earn his 12th title in Paris and 18th slam overall. Nadal won 116 points to Thiem’s 82 in a sign of his dominance, even more impressive when those numbers are put up with a set lost.
Thiem has established himself as the best of the rest, at least on clay, but will have to wait a few more years with one of the greatest of all time continuing to block his path at the French Open. It does have similarities to Andy Murray’s issues in Australia – where he continued to make the final only to come up against the brick wall of Novak Djokovic time and again. “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.” he said afterwards.
For Nadal, reaching Roger Federer’s 20 slams continues to be a legitimate goal but he may well need to find success in either Melbourne or New York to ensure he can fight off Djokovic – who trails at 15. For now, he adds to a record that is going to be one of the most impossible to beat in any sport, never mind tennis. “I can’t explain what I’ve achieved and how I feel. It’s a dream,” said Nadal. “To play for the first time in 2005 – I never thought in 2019 I’d still be here. It’s an incredible moment and very special for me.”