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Nadal vs Thiem tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Is it Thiem’s time to become the first man to beat Nadal in a French Open final?

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 9 Jun 2019
  • Rafael Nadal faces Dominic Thiem in the final of the 2019 French Open
  • Nadal vs Thiem is live from Roland Garros on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm BST
Is Rafael Nadal headed to a twelfth French Open title? (PA Sports)

Rafael Nadal has never lost a French Open final – is the man they call the King of Clay headed to a twelfth Roland Garros title or can Dominic Thiem cause a huge shock?

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Dominic Thiem stopped Rafael Nadal from claiming a twelfth title in Barcelona – can he do the same on the biggest clay-court stage of them all in the French Open final?

Nadal celebrates victory over Roger Federer (PA Sports)
Nadal’s rampage to the French Open final, dropping just one set on his way through the Roland Garros draw and squashing Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinals, has been so impressive that it’s easy to forget the vulnerabilities he showed at the start of the clay-court season. At two of his traditional strongholds, the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open, both of which he has won 11 times, Nadal was felled at the semifinal stage – by Fabio Fognini at the former, Thiem at the latter. In Madrid he went down to Stefanos Tsitsipas, and it was only really in Rome that he started to look, well, like Rafa on clay as he dropped just 20 games on the way to the title.

No one can make a draw look easy quite like Nadal, but there’s no denying that he hasn’t faced the toughest opposition: David Goffin, oddly enough, was the only player to take a set off him and Kei Nishikori had little to offer in the quarterfinals. 

The match against Federer in the semifinals was one of those which are played in conditions that really shape the encounter, in this case the high winds at Roland Garros on Friday, swirling in lethal fashion on Court Philippe-Chatrier; Nadal proved once again that he is one of the absolute best at playing in windy conditions, adjusting superbly both on a tactical level and the micro-level of his fleet footwork allowing him to adapt to the swerving, changing flight of the balls. His cross-court backhand absolutely sizzled, continuously wreaking havoc in rallies, and he did that Nadal thing which, if you are a fan of another player, is absolutely infuriating: Producing a moment of magic just as his opponent seems to have wrested the momentum briefly into their favor, in this case a forehand winner flicked up the line off a Federer smash to retrieve an early break from Federer in the second set.

Nadal punished Federer’s forays into net much as Thiem himself would do to Novak Djokovic on Friday and Saturday, and by the end of the match it all felt highly inevitable as Nadal wrapped up a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory. And yet I have a feeling that the one-sidedness of the scoreline and the seeming supremacy of Nadal might have had more to do with Federer struggling to deal with the conditions than Nadal being quite as invulnerable as he might seem.

Dominic Thiem (PA Sports)
The Spaniard has, of course, immense advantages coming into Sunday’s final. Quite apart from the fact that he’s the best clay-court player of all time, and the confidence boost that will come from having won 11 Grand Slams on that very court before, he has a distinct physical and psychological advantage, having been able to play on Wednesday and Friday – short matches, too – while Thiem has been forced to play four days in a row from Thursday. Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals on Thursday might have been straightforward enough, but Novak Djokovic on Friday and Saturday was neither quick nor easy.

Thiem said afterwards: ‘Somehow I had the feeling that I had the lead in the whole match.’ It didn’t really feel like that, watching it – at least it didn’t feel like Thiem was the one who was playing the better tennis. Friday, yes, as the Austrian dominated the first set, narrowly lost the second and went up a break in the third to lead 3-1 before play was suspended and then, bizarrely, cancelled for the day. But on Saturday I thought Djokovic was playing better for much of the remainder of the match, if not all of it. How, then, did Thiem win?

Well, he never let up, for one thing. It’s taken time for the 25-year-old Austrian to get to this point, but he now plays like someone who truly believes he can beat the best and win big titles, and his aggression was relentless on Saturday; he never stopped going for his shots and sooner or later, he made them, like the clean forehand winner he hit on his third match point. Also, he played so cleverly. He hit drop shots and short slices to bring Djokovic into net, forcing the Serb to try to control volleys in the wind; he mixed up and maneouvred Djokovic around the court. And he moved so well, showcasing so much athleticism, foot speed and fitness.

The problem is that the tactics he used with great success against Djokovic won’t, I think, work on Nadal, because Nadal is a better volleyer (sorry, Novak) and a better player in the wind. Thiem’s confidence is sky-high right now, but it’s hard to believe that he can sustain the kind of adrenaline-fuelled level of intensity that carried him through against Djokovic – not after two straight days of ups, downs, delays, revivals, twists and turns against an opponent like the world no. 1. And not if Nadal wins the first set. The Spaniard is, rightly, legendary as a front-runner, but in this case, I think it’s more to do with the blow to the solar plexus that Thiem would receive from losing the first set. I can see him fading fast, should that happen.

Thiem is, of course, one of just two men to have beaten Nadal four or more times on clay. But the problem there is that the other one is Novak Djokovic, and the two of them (and the weather, and the organizers) knocked seven kinds of hell out of each other on Friday and Saturday; and the other problem is that Thiem has never done it over the best of five sets. Usually I would say that if Thiem can avoid getting steamrolled early on, the best-of-five factor works in his favour – he’s young and energetic and Nadal is a 30-something bag of chronic injuries wrapped in muscle and Nike togs – but not when you take into account the fact that he’ll be playing for the fourth day in a row. I think Thiem can take a set. But I think Nadal will be the champion yet again in Paris.

Nadal vs Thiem men’s final tennis is live from Roland Garros on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm BST

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Nadal vs Thiem tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Is it Thiem’s time to become the first man to beat Nadal in a French Open final?

Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem live streaming, preview and predictions for the French Open men’s singles final on Sunday 9 June: Thiem denied Nadal a twelfth Barcelona title but can he do the same on the biggest stage – Roland Garros?

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