By SM.11 Jun, 2018
PARIS: Rafael Nadal, the king of clay, wears 11 crowns. La Undecima. Playing the king of clay at the French Open is akin to scaling Mont Blanc without any ropes and even an intrepid adventurer from Europe’s Alpine heartland found it a peak too steep as Rafael Nadal claimed an 11th title on Sunday.
"This is unbelievable, it"s not even a dream. Nobody dreams of winning 11 titles," Nadal, who turned to his team, raising his arms in celebration, after the 2 hour-42-minute French Open final, said. "I"m very happy to have won, especially after I suffered with cramps in the third set. That happens in a match where you are pushed, like I was today."
In the final, played under heavy skies, punctuated by thunderous shot-making and stunning use of court, the 32-year-old Spaniard triumphed 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 against first-time finalist Dominic Thiem.
The 24-year-old, who fought to the finish, even when outplayed, had watched Nadal win his first Roland Garros title in 2005 on television. He was 11-years-old. "For me to be here and play a final against Rafa is a dream. What Nadal has achieved here is an awesome thing in sport," Thiem said.
The Spaniard, who now has 17 major crowns, wept as he held aloft the Coupe des Mousquetaires presented to him by Aussie legend the 80-year-old Ken Rosewall.
Earlier in the afternoon, Nadal"s entry into the Philippe-Chatrier court was intimidating to say the least. Designed to damage. He walked in waving his weapon, acknowledging the screaming, full-house, much like a soldier in full stride. He then dropped his bag and as he took off his jacket, he did a little jig that once again had the crowd on its feet. And when Thiem netted a forehand in the second game, to fall back 0-2, he looked sufficiently rattled. But the Austrian, of the bruising power game, the only player to have beaten the Spaniard two-years in a row on clay, in the lead up to Roland Garros, wasn"t about to join the fan club. He was, however, to learn that beating the champion in a best-of-three set feature is different from doing the same over five sets.
To his credit, Thiem had brought his biggest shots to the final, and he showed it to the capacity crowd. He broke Nadal with a down-the-line forehand in the third game to throw up his hand and ask to be counted. To compete though is one thing, and the razor"s edge is quite the other. Serving to stay in the set, Nadal broke at love, the same score with which Thiem had held serve in the previous game.
The world No.1 then got off to a scorcher in the second, breaking Thiem in the second game to take a 3-0 lead. He attacked Thiem"s single-handed backhand, breathtaking when in flow, but it erred too often. The Spaniard used angles and spin to wrong-foot his opponent. After the first two sets, stats showed that 15 of Thiem"s 30 unforced errors came from that flank, he then finished with 20 on the backhand side. The Spaniard"s overall unforced error count was 24.
The first point of the third set was the match in a nutshell. A 20-ball rally in which the Spaniard piled on to the Thiem backhand, which held up well for most part. On his penultimate strike, the world No.8 ran around his backhand, but Nadal responded by going to the corner and Thiem was forced to get down and play a ball that floated long. The 24-year-old was broken in the third game of the second set. The top-seed had a hiccup when serving in the fourth game (30-0), he left the court for a minute and was tended to by the trainer (forearm and finger) for cramps. Nadal broke again before serving out the match in the eighth game.
The 11-time Roland Garros champion, who took home Euros 200,000 for the victory, applauded his younger opponent, "Dominic played great and I am sure he"ll win here in the next couple of years. He"s a good player and an even better person."