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Three reasons why Dominic Thiem can beat Rafael Nadal to win Roland Garros title

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 9 Jun 2019
  • Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem is live from Roland Garros on Sunday at 3.00pm local time (2.00pm BST)
  • Nadal is gunning for his 12th French Open and 18th major title, Thiem aiming for his first
Dominic Thiem (PA Images)

Conquering the King of Clay at Roland Garros is the undisputed toughest test in tennis - but there’s a few reasons for Dominic Thiem fans to be cautiously optimistic ahead of the French Open final on Sunday.

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Dominic Thiem goes in search of his first Grand Slam title at the French Open on Sunday when he squares off against 11-time champion Rafael Nadal - and we’ve come up with three reasons why the Austrian fourth seed can walk away with a famous victory and first piece of major silverware…

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He’s done it four times before


Granted, Thiem hasn’t come close to beating Nadal at the French Open, losing all nine sets they’ve played during matches in 2014, 2017 and of course last year’s final, but the Austrian can draw confidence from four previous triumphs over the Spaniard on clay in each of the last four years - including a straight sets dispatch in the Barcelona Open semi-finals less than two months ago.

Belief and self-confidence is paramount when facing Nadal on clay, because if it’s not present, you’re already beaten before stepping out on court. Thiem is one of a handful of players (if that) on tour that knows he can beat Nadal on clay, but the challenge for him is to do it over five sets on the biggest stage of them all. Nadal has had his number in Paris, but Thiem has been building towards this moment for a few years now, which brings me to my next point…

Thiem’s steady improvement on clay each season


Thiem has improved his results each year at the big tournaments on European clay, making the Rome Masters quarter-finals and French Open semi-finals in 2016 to first break into the top 10, while he made his first Masters 1000 final in Madrid and the semi-finals at Rome and Roland Garros the following season. Thiem then made the Madrid final once more last season before advancing to his first Grand Slam final in Paris. This season, Thiem - after winning his first Masters 1000 title on the slow hardcourts of Indian Wells - beat Nadal in straight sets on his way to the Barcelona title, while it took Djokovic to take him out in two tiebreaks in the Madrid semis before advancing to his second straight major final at Roland Garros over the last fortnight.


Thiem has proven himself to be the second best clay-courter in the world for the better part of that aforementioned time span, and in my opinion, he’s due a blistering performance on the biggest stage of them all. I’ve got no doubt Thiem will end up with multiple Roland Garros titles when his career is over, and the first one could come on Sunday…

Nadal’s easy route to the final


Yes, while Thiem’s path to the final is less than ideal, specifically playing a five-set semi-final across two days with no rest, but there’s a possibility Nadal’s simple road to the title match could backfire.

Thiem will be by far Nadal’s biggest test, and sometimes it’s tough to confront that after such a smooth passage beforehand. Let’s be honest, Nadal has faced nobody capable of challenging him in the first five rounds, while he will always have Roger Federer’s number on clay. That win wasn’t pretty by any means, and of course the wind played it’s part, but I didn’t think Nadal was anywhere near his best. Thiem has the ability, with his muscular groundstrokes, to overpower Nadal unlike any of his previous opponents, and the good news for the Austrian is that even though he played four hours against Djokovic, it was spread out pretty evenly across the two days, and he will have basically 24 hours before stepping out on to court again. That’s more than enough recovery time for a professional athlete.

It’s a stretch, but if everything comes together for Thiem, a first Grand Slam title could be coming his way on Sunday.


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Three reasons why Dominic Thiem can beat Rafael Nadal to win Roland Garros title

Conquering the King of Clay at Roland Garros is the undisputed toughest test in tennis - but there’s a few reasons for Dominic Thiem fans to be cautiously optimistic ahead of the French Open final on Sunday.

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