RAFA NADAL is officially the most dominant player at one Grand Slam event as he battered Dominic Thiem to break one of the longest-standing records in tennis.
The Spaniard was already established as the King of Clay when he started this final with the Austrian but he underlined that position with a stunning 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory.
This is the 12th time Nadal has lifted the La Coupe des Mousquetaires – The Musketeers’ Trophy in English – and probably when he eventually retires, it’s likely the silverware will be named after him.
This latest success means he has overtaken Margaret Court’s 46-year-old record of 11 triumphs at the Australian Open, which had for so long remained as the benchmark for most singles titles, male or female, won at the same Grand Slam tournament.
And worryingly for Roger Federer, crestfallen after his semi-final defeat on Friday, Nadal is now just two slams away from equalling his mark of 20 majors.
Thiem, 25, came into this final with a massive physical and emotional disadvantage. His epic five-set semi-final with world No.1 Novak Djokovic had finished at 4pm on Saturday, more than 24 hours after it had started, following a succession of rain delays and a period of potentially dangerous wind conditions.
Just what condition Thiem would be in as he faced the mighty Nadal was the main concern for everybody wanting a memorable final. Especially as the Spaniard had had the benefit of an extra day’s rest.
Yet from the first few points it was evident Thiem was not experiencing any initial signs of fatigue or battle-weariness – and this had the making of a competitive contest.
Thiem more than matched Nadal blow-for-blow in their prolonged rallies, varied up his shot-making, carving out some exceptional winners, and even enjoyed a notable break of serve in the fifth game.
If he didn’t already known then Nadal, who had to stop serving in the first game because of a crying baby, was facing a much improved player. It was certainly a far harder proposition than when they played 12 months ago at the same juncture.
Yet Nadal, wearing a canary yellow shit, broke back in the sixth game and then again in the eighth game as took the first set in 53 minutes and reminded everybody that this was his arena.
Most players would have crumbled if they had lost a first set to Nadal at this particular location but Thiem is clearly made of sterner stuff, and that bodes well for the future of the sport.
When he moved 6-5 ahead in the second set, he cleverly carved out two set points on the Nadal serve. Only one opportunity was needed as Nadal’s forehand was long and Thiem celebrated the first set he had won in a Grand Slam final.
Interestingly Thiem is now the only man currently under the age of 30 to have won a set in a Grand Slam singles final.
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The Court Philippe-Chatrier crowed roared “Dominic” in approval and, unlike in 2018, this was becoming a proper match.
Naturally this only riled and angered Nadal and the retribution was swift and painful.
The start of the third set could not have been worse for Thiem, who shanked a few forehands long, a couple of efforts into the net and embarrassingly surrendered 11 points in a row as he fell 3-0 behind.
Impressively Nadal stepped up a gear, winning 16 of the opening 17 points, and wrapped up the set 6-1 with ease.
The intensity and drive that we had seen from Thiem in the early exchanges started to fizzle out, possibly the belated aftereffects of that long semi, and Nadal completed the win in just over three hours of action.
To win one major in tennis is considered an achievement and worthy of applause. Yet to win 18 of them, with 12 of them coming on the red Paris clay, when you consider his chequered history of injuries, is staggeringly exceptional from the 33-year-old.
Nadal, who was once again watched by the King of Spain Juan Carlos, is indeed true sporting royalty.
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