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Nadal in fighting form for Roland Garros final against Thiem

Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2 May 2018
Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2 May 2018 RFI/Pierre René-Worms

Thiem has beaten Nadal before. But this is the French Open, where Nadal's powers seem supernatural.


A few years ago, the organisers at the French open come up with a whizzer idea about how to jazz up the prematch jousting.

They decided to have an MC recount the achievements of player X or player Y.

So when journeyman B played say, Novak Djokovic, B’s story would be told in a brief moment of time. The telling of Djokovic’s legend would, by comparison, last an eternity.

Pity anyone then who has to hear the exploits of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

On and on the announcer goes about titles in all corners of the earth and then it comes … “He won his first French Open in 2005 … He’s won in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 … he is Spanish, he is the world number one, he is the 10 time champion, he is Rafael Nadal!” There are roars and cheers.

How will Thiem fare?

From then on it’s just a question of how long victim X will last. The 11th seed Diego Schwartzman injected an element of suspense by winning the first set of their quarter-final clash. His temerity was punished in the following three sets 6-3 6-2 6-2.

In the semi-final, Juan Martin Del Potro looked as if he’d offer a fight at 4-4 in the first set. The 29-year-old Argentine had three break points. But the fifth seed failed to convert and it was all over in straight sets.

Will Dominic Thiem fare any better in the final?

It will be his first major showdown and Nadal’s 24th. He’s won 16 of them.

The Austrian has been anointed Nadal’s heir on clay and it is true he has the craft and the firepower to topple the king. He beat him on clay in Rome in 2017 and on clay in Madrid this year. But those were Masters 1000 tournaments and the best of three sets,

The virtues of clay

This is the French Open, Nadal’s realm. It’s a place where Nadal appears invested with other-world powers.

“Clay is a surface that combines a lot of things,” said Nadal. “It is physically demanding and you need strategy and mental resistance because it is a surface on which you need to fight.”

Not that he’s had to do much battling of late. He did not drop a set on the way to the 2017 crown.

“You can play aggressive and you can play defensive,” Nadal added. “The surface allows you to play different ways. Here in Paris, you can play defensive and you can play offensive and with both things you can have success.

“I believe I was able to be always ready to adapt my game or to adapt myself to the new times.”

Eight years younger

Nadal malleable?

It doesn’t seem that way. The forehand topspin still rears up viciously and the cussedness appears intact. He still hares around the court like the youth of old.

But at 32, he faces a player in the final who is eight years his junior and who is eager to make his mark. And overcoming Nadal in a Roland Garros Sunday showdown would be a tectonic shift. And Nadal, having entwined his name in history, is getting a metaphysical nudge now.

“I lost a lot of opportunities due to injuries,” he said. ‘And I know the years are going quick. So there are not 10 more chances to keep playing in Paris.”

That sounds like fighting talk.

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