Nadal shows Thiem what it takes to be king

Richard Hazeldine Richard Hazeldine

We long ran out of superlatives to describe the phenomenon that is Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

How can you top perfection? Nadal seemingly knows how, as on Sunday he crushed the challenge of Dominic Thiem to claim a remarkable 11th title in Paris.

Consider that the nearest anyone had ever gotten to a similar kind of dominance on the clay courts of the French capital before Nadal was Bjorn Borg with six titles and it gives you an idea of just how good he is.

And like a good wine, Nadal seems to be getting better with age.

Thiem entered Rafa’s domain on Sunday confident that he could at least give the King of Clay a run for his money. After all, he had beaten Nadal twice on his favourite surface in the last two years.

The brutal truth, however, is that this young pretender to Nadal’s clay throne was never at the races once Nadal had broken him at 4-4 in the first set.

Thiem had been brave, putting every ounce of his power and accuracy into his shots over the opening eight games. Trouble is, that only allowed him to stay with Rafa. Not once did he look actually like he was troubling the 32-year old champion.

Each time Thiem forced an opening, Nadal immediately slammed the door shut with a brutal backhand, or a ferocious forehand. Numerous well-timed drop shots were also deployed, a tactic that paid off more often than not as Thiem repeatedly scampered forward only to find the net.

It was hard not to feel sorry for Thiem, given the seeming fruitlessness of his task against his masterful opponent. The next best player on clay was made to look like an amateur.

Even when Nadal showed a sign of weakness, undergoing repeated treatments to an arm cramp in the third set, Thiem was unable to capitalise as like a wounded lion, Nadal immediately upped the tempo in order to bring proceedings to an end as quickly as possible.

The eight-year age gap between the two made no apparent difference as the master gave his student the ultimate lesson in front of his adoring audience. Thiem left to look on as the King once again lifted ‘his’ trophy.

How long can this dynasty continue? Probably as long as Rafa wants it to. Given his fiercely competitive nature, and his remarkable record of just two defeats in 88 matches in Paris, one would presume that Nadal would probably want to quit while he’s on top.

Thiem and co. must be hoping that day comes sooner rather than later.