French Open- Nadal vs Thiem
There was one point, in retrospect, in the final, that changed the entire match.
After a slow start to the final, losing his first service game, Thiem had gradually been finding his way into the match, to the extent that he was consistently trading shots, and winning rallies from the back of the court against Nadal. This continued for the first point of the game, with Thiem serving at 4-5. Proficiently moving the Spaniard around the court, Thiem moved into the net to finish a relatively simple volley. However, similarly to one he missed in his second set tie break in the semi-finals against Marco Cecchinato, Thiem bundled the ball into the net.
Unlike the semi-final miss however, this one had lasting damage. The point seemed to knock the young Austrian’s confidence, and he made another 3 errors after this one, losing the set, and with it, the match.
Who knows how different the match would have been if Thiem had won that point, game and even set? Thiem was certainly up against it from the start; Rafa was a perfect 10-0 in the final of this event. However, for around half an hour at least, Thiem was matching Nadal, and the first set would perhaps have given him the confidence to go on and continue challenging the defending champion.
From this point, things progressed smoothly for Nadal. That is, until Nadal was a break up in the third set. A small plot twist, Nadal’s hand started to cramp. This threatened to change the momentum of the match, even at this late stage, and led to a tense ending, despite the Spaniard being a double break up. It looked like Nadal was really hurting towards the end, and if Thiem had broken in the last game, he may have been able to make something of a comeback.
As it was, Nadal managed to struggle his way over the line, but did not drop to the ground as is the usual for the Spaniard when he wins one of tennis’s biggest titles. Perhaps it was the pain, or the relief that he did not have to carry on with this match any longer. Whatever it was, Nadal is a ridiculous eleven-time winner of the French open, a truly incredible number.
Thiem didn’t play his best tennis during the match, but played at a good standard throughout, and had a successful tournament, making his first grand slam final. Many believe Thiem will be a future champion here in Paris. I am inclined to agree, but the young Austrian may have to wait until Nadal retires before he can reach the heights of tennis. It is hard to ever see the Spaniard not competing at the final stages of this tournament while he is an active player.
This win will only cement Nadal’s legendary status on this surface. No one has ever, man or woman, won a grand slam more than 11 times. With this win, Nadal equals Margaret Court’s 11 titles at the Australian Open. Will he get one more to break her record? You wouldn’t bet against it.
In the short term, Nadal will take a few days off, then begin preparations for the grass court season. High on confidence, he will hope to go further than the last few years, where he has struggled with the low bouncing balls. This title run will be stored in the memory banks of the Spaniard, but only as inspiration for Nadal as he goes about expanding his already bursting trophy cabinet.
It is relentless? Certainly. But this is what it takes for a champion like Nadal to achieve his legendary status in the sport.