Rafael Nadal: One Dozen Roland Garros Titles

Rafael Nadal (photo: Nicolas Gouhier / FFT)

PARIS, June 9, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)

Spanish World No. 2 Rafael Nadal made it an even dozen of titles in Paris as he defeated Austria’s Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in a riveting three-hour one-minute final on Sunday.

In a match that was tightly-contested despite the easy-looking score – especially of the latter two sets – the Mallorcan emphasised what has made him so dominant on clay, and in the tournament. The first set alone lasted 63 minutes and included three breaks of serve, with Thiem and Nadal exchanging service breaks in the fifth and sixth game. A decisive break of serve came Nadal’s way in the eighth game of the set and the 33-year-old closed the set’s door firmly on his rival.

To Thiem’s credit, the 25-year-old never stopped trying. He bided his chances, kept to his strategy of aggressively going for his shots without losing faith in them in spite of going down a set. The second set remained on serve right up to the 12th game when Thiem had two set points on Nadal’s serve, which he went on to take to level the match at a set-all.

Then, the third and fourth sets witnessed Nadal elevating his tactics as if to ensure no more lapses came off his racquet. The 33-year-old Spaniard began the third set with a break on Thiem’s serve and then, after a quick consolidation, followed it up with another break of serve. Nadal kept the Austrian guessing by mixing up his shots, putting them both deep inside the court and keeping them short, too. Trying to counter this with even more aggression, Thiem committed more errors which kept Nadal ahead in the match as he took the third set with ease for a two-sets-to-one lead.

Nonetheless, it was not that Thiem did not have any further chances to get back at Nadal aside from the opening two sets. In the fourth set, although he went down an early break again, Thiem had a couple of chances to break back at 1-3 but his unforced errors coupled with Nadal’s forceful winners meant both opportunities were lost to him. Eventually, in the seventh game, yet another error from Thiem ensured Nadal’s 18th Grand Slam title on his third match point.

“Even though I didn’t win the tournament, still, two years finals in a row, it’s nice. I think that I developed my game. I was also closer than last year in the finals, I have the feeling, I mean, especially in the first two sets,” Thiem said.

“The beginning of the match was unbelievably intense. I dropped a little bit towards the end of the first set. Then I played the way I should play in the second set, very aggressive. After these two sets, I dropped a little bit my level. I mean, then Rafa, who won this tournament 12 times, he stepped on me.”

Milestone Man

With this  latest title, Nadal reduced his gap with rival Roger Federer’s 20 Slam titles to two. As has been reiterated, 12 of these titles have come in the French capital alone, making him the first player – male or female – to win a Major 12 times. But how has he done it?

In a light-hearted moment during his on-court speech after his win, Nadal joked, “I don’t know. Just working hard and still hold the passion for what I am doing, that’s all.”

The World No. 2 now has a 101-0 win-to-loss record in best-of-five matches played on clay. This is Nadal’s third stretch of consecutive title-hauls in Paris, after winning it between 2005-08, and then, from 2010-2014. This is his third consecutive French Open title (2017-2019).

This win also makes Nadal the third-oldest French Open champion after former compatriot Andres Gimeno, who won the Roland Garros title in 1968 at the age of 34, and 33-year-old Ken Rosewall’s win in 1972.

Nadal is also the fifth player, after Federer, Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Cristian Garin to win two titles in the 2019 season.