French Open- The Final Preview
It’s the last day of the clay court season, and the tour is beginning to move towards the green grass of London. Before the focus shifts entirely however, there is the small matter of the final of the French Open, one of the four biggest matches of the year, to decide the second grand slam of the year.
And what as final it should be. It is the one most were hoping for, between the two best clay court players in the world. This should be an intriguing matchup, and, more importantly, a competitive one. In the Nadal era on the clay courts, competitive matches with the legendary Spaniard have been hard to come by, which some have argued have not benefited the sport. This argument is for another time however, and today we will focus purely on the match to come.
Both players are coming into the match in excellent form, shown in the way both players dominated their semi-finals against quality opposition, showing that this really is the match between the two best players in the world right now.
Historically, Nadal, has had success in this rivalry, leading 6-3. Interestingly, the two have only met on the red dirt. This alone shows Thiem’s calibre on the surface; only Djokovic and the Austrian have beaten Nadal 3 times or more on his favoured surface. In the last 4 matches the pair are 2-2 and have both one win each this clay court season.
Of these two matches this year, it is Thiem’s win where we can learn more. Nadal scored his victory all the way back in April, where he blew through Thiem, 6-0, 6-2. However, it is clear that while Nadal, as always, rapidly got into the swing of things, Thiem gradually improved over the next 6 weeks, and began to peak in Madrid, where he managed turn the tables on the Spaniard. This match gives a truer reflection of how well Thiem will be playing, and what tactics will be used.
In Madrid, Thiem played extremely aggressively, firing winner after winner down against the Spaniard, along with accurately serving throughout. Effectively, he made it so the match was on his racket. On Sunday, Thiem must use these tactics again in order to have a chance.
Even by doing this however, it may not enough to take Thiem to the title. Conditions in Paris suit Nadal better than in Madrid, where the high altitude makes the ball fly more, and promotes attacking tennis. In Paris, Nadal can sit deep behind the court, and hit deep, kicking groundstrokes before pouncing on any short balls. This will be especially true in tomorrow’s predicted heat, which will only make Nadal’s forehands more difficult to deal with.
Will the magnitude of the match play a role? You would assume that it would be Nadal, the world number one, defending champion and expected winner that would face more of the pressure, which may help Thiem to get off to a good early start. This may even enable him to take the first set, which would set him up nicely in this encounter. However, Nadal is well used to this pressure by now. Every match he plays on this surface brings its own pressure, as he is expected to comfortably beat virtually every player on tour. Even if it takes a little time, Nadal will find his best tennis in this match.
Prediction– Nadal wins in 4 sets. Thiem will get quick start and take the first set, but the consistent pressure of Nadal will eventually wear the young Austrian down.