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Rafael Nadal wins 11th Roland Garros title: King of Clay dismisses Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 10 Jun 2018
  • Rafael Nadal won his 11th French Open title after a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory over Dominic Thiem
  • Nadal has now won 17 Grand Slam titles, 3 behind great rival, Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal claimed his eleventh French Open title with a dominant 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory over Austria’s Dominic Thiem.

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Nadal came into the match as the heavy favourite, but Thiem went in as the only man to have beaten the great Spaniard on clay in the last two years. If anyone had a chance, however remote, it was Thiem. The Austrian spoke before the match about knowing what to do to beat Nadal- which was basically all out aggression from start to finish, a tactic that had served him well in Rome last year, and Madrid this season. However, it’s one thing to beat Nadal over the best of three sets in the altitude in Madrid, but it is a totally different ball game over the best of five in his Holy Ground at Roland Garros. On this form, it was impossible.

True to his word, Thiem struck the ball as hard as he could, and while he muscled his fair share of winners past the Nadal defence, he inevitably donated a plethora of unforced errors. Nadal’s rearguard was typically suffocating, while his offence was devastating, leaving a disbelieving Thiem often screaming at himself, or his box, shaking his head or staring into space wondering what else he had to do to shake off the relentless beast at the other end. There was very little he could have done to stop the King of Clay.

Victory over Thiem ensured that Nadal stays at No. 1 in the world after Roland Garros, while he joins Margaret Court as the only players to have won a single Grand Slam on 11 occasions. Nadal moves up to 17 Grand Slam titles, which keeps him at second on the all-time list; Roger Federer, with 20, remains the only man to have won more.

Nadal’s route to the French Open final was not the most perfect- he narrowly escaped being dragged to a fourth set by Simone Bolelli, who had three set points in the third set tie break in the opening round, while for a set and a half, Diego Schwartzman had the great man on the ropes, leading by a set and a break before the rain intervened. Nadal, the master of in-game adjustments, regrouped to take control of the second set before returning the next day to finish off the Argentine.

However, there was no slow start in the final, he was quickly out of the blocks, winning the first six points of the match. Nadal brought up the first break point with a forehand crosscourt winner, while another forehand gave him the break in Thiem’s opening service game. It was an ominous start. 

To his credit, Thiem got back on serve immediately and stayed with Nadal for the rest of the set, saving three more break points in the process. The pressure eventually told when the underdog served to stay in the set at 4-5. A missed backhand volley set the tone for a shocking game, while a forehand error punctuated a game that handed the opening set to Nadal. For this to be a contest really, Thiem had to win the opening set. 

Nadal is one of the finest front runners in the sport, and after holding to open the second set, he immediately turned on the screws on Thiem’s serve. Thiem did extremely well to save four break points, but the relentless Nadal kept pushing and eventually had his way when his battered opponent sent a backhand long on a fifth break point. The was a sense of finality at that point. This one was heading in only one direction.

Thiem had his only break point of the set as Nadal served at 4-2, outfoxing the Spaniard with a drop shot, but the King of Clay responded in kind, pulling out a couple of drop shots to lure Thiem forward before finishing him off at the net to get out of trouble. He calmly served out a two-sets lead a couple of games later.

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
The end seemed swift when Thiem slid into a 0-40 hole at the start of the third set; the Austrian dug his way out of trouble, but the respite was short-lived. He was again under the cosh when he next stepped  up to the line, and this time he had no answers, as Nadal unfurled a big inside out forehand on a second break point of the game to take the lead; and move ever so close to that eleventh title. 

At this point, Thiem needed an external force to intervene on his behalf, a freak injury perhaps, and he received a glimmer of hope when Nadal stopped play while serving at 2-1, complaining that he couldn’t feel his playing hand, cramps perhaps- he returned to finish off the game, but he had his left forearm massaged by the physio at the next sit down at 3-2. It proved to be just a minor problem, at least in the context of the match, as the great Spaniard won the next three games to complete another outstanding fortnight at Roland Garros. He was made to work a little harder than he would have liked in the final game, as he was pegged back to deuce from 40-0, but the King of Clay was not to be denied, and he converted his fifth match point when Thiem send a backhand beyond the baseline.

Like Nadal said after the match, Thiem, widely acclaimed as the heir apparent to Nadal on the dirt, will win Roland Garros sometime in the near future, but the current King is in no mood to surrender his title. If anything, he appears to be getting better, hungrier, and as his post-match tears suggests, this thing still means a lot to him- he’s not letting go anytime soon.

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Rafael Nadal wins 11th Roland Garros title: King of Clay dismisses Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2

Rafael Nadal claimed his 11th French Open title with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory over Dominic Thiem

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