Dominic Thiem was expecting “the ultimate challenge” against Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. That was exactly what he got.
The astounding “King of Clay” earned a record-breaking 12th French Open title by overpowering the gutsy Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 on Sunday — no other player, male or female, has won a single grand slam as many times.
Thiem and Nadal’s longtime rival Roger Federer, who the defending champion beat comprehensively in the semi-finals, were under no illusions about the enormity of the task beating the world number two on the red dirt represents when speaking to the media this week.
Thiem was not up to it when the pair met in last year’s final. He was unable to cope with the Spaniard’s unforgiving shot making and found himself clinically swept aside in straight sets.
It looked like it could be a different story this time around, but, as he always does, Nadal simply reached a level no other player can match and secured a return to his Roland Garros throne.
Thiem darted around the court at magnificent pace in the first set, returning shots the second seed would normally be turning for his towel after hitting.
His approach made Nadal sweat. The Austrian mixed some of the fiercest groundstrokes with the deftest of drop shots to keep his opponent on his toes.
The pair were consistently embroiled in brutal, punishing rallies. The crowd were on the edge of their seats. They were gasping in awe as seemingly impossible shots crossed back and forth over the net. They shushed one another mid-point, hoping they may help prolong the battle between two masters of the clay. It was enthralling and tiring to watch.