Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

Thiem hails 'awesome' King of Clay after French Open defeat

Kristopher Love | 11 June, 2018, 04:54

He persists at his punishing physicality and pounding shots even 13 long and grinding years after the wonder from the Spanish island of Mallorca debuted at Roland Garros with sleeveless shirts, clam-digger shorts, shoulder-length hair and MMA muscles, and, two days after his 19th birthday, won his first title and said, "I fight every point, every point, no?" Maybe that might give Thiem a little bit of hope.

The next few games were an absolute treat for fans of clay court tennis. He pounded huge serves that topped 135 miles per hour - about 25 miles per hour better than Nadal's fastest - and translated into seven aces but also had five double faults. For a time, fans could nearly believe that Thiem would present a challenge in this match.

This was Nadal's 11th win at the French Open, also known as Roland Garros. Could Thiem provide us with a classic final?

For an instant, before it became clear that he could continue, the unthinkable seemed possible. Thiem has won 7-5 6-3 and lost creditably 7-6 6-4 in Madrid, and won 6-4 6-3 in Rome. On the first point, he missed a volley-it was not the easiest of volleys, but it was one that a top player should make-and everything snowballed from there.

But the Austrian freed his shoulders and broke back in the third game with a forehand victor - pumping his fists in the direction of coach Gunter Bresnik. A spate of poor play quickly saw him lose the first three games of the set.

The second set was wrapped up as Thiem sent a backhand into the tramlines but the Austrian refused to capitulate and managed to save four break chances in the opening game of the third. One down-the-line forehand victor landed right at the baseline and Thiem's shoulders sagged as he muttered to himself.

Nadal struck first in an enthralling opening set, breaking Thiem's first service game to take a two-game lead but they were back on serve immediately as the Austrian hit back. It clearly impacted his serve moving forward, but not his ground strokes.

Up a break at 2-1 in the third set, Nadal stopped serving after a fault because he couldn't straighten his left middle finger.

The younger challengers struggle to land a punch, and the last six men's Grand Slam titles have now gone in the sequence of Federer-Nadal-Federer-Nadal-Federer-Nadal.

"It's incredible now, I can't describe my feelings", Nadal told the crowd on Philippe Chatrier Court moments after capturing his 17th Grand Slam trophy with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory.

Wilander has a point in regard to tennis as a whole, but as far as the 2018 Wimbledon Championships are concerned, Federer's logic is sound, taking the time to get fit for his best tournament at 36 years of age.

It's impossible to know, looking ahead, just how much longer Nadal can do this.

Unlike previous year - when those first few games realistically settled things - Thiem bounced back, breaking straight away.