When it was all over, Rafael Nadal raised his arms in triumph after earning another title at Roland Garros. Closing his eyes for a brief moment to take in the sounds all around him, Nadal rejoined to reality as he always does, turning to the crowd and applauding with them.
It was routine. All of it.
Nadal defeated Austrian Dominic Thiem in three sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to win his 11th French Open and his second in as many years.
It might have been over shortly after it started but that didn’t make the process of Nadal’s latest title any less incredible.
Nadal has never lost at Roland Garros following an opening set victory. He was 76-0 in that regard before Sunday’s match. That gave Thiem the smallest of windows to upset the greatest tennis player to step on a clay court in the sport’s history. And there was no question Thiem was up for the challenge — albeit after a quick stumble to open the men’s singles championship.
After Nadal won the first six points and went up 2-0 in the opening set, Thiem began to find his rhythm and was able to start pushing back. He evened the set at 2-2, then again at 3-3 and finally at 4-4. That was as close as Thiem came to putting pressure on the Spaniard. Nadal won the next two games with ease to take the set in a cool 57 minutes.
From there he only got stronger. Nadal finished off the second set in less than 50 minutes and was only a few games away from the inevitable.
That Nadal started cramping midway through the third set only seemed to increase his sense of urgency and ability to finish stronger than he starts. After a double fault forced him to take a seat, Nadal motioned for a trainer to come over and work on his left forearm. The drama for Nadal this time around, it seemed, would be self-inflicted. A short massage on the forearm loosened things up long enough for the 32-year-old to reach the finish line.
Theim went out quietly, though there was little else he could do. His opponent is now 22-0 when advancing past the quarterfinals in the French Open. At 24 years old, there’s still plenty of time for the Austrian to leave his mark on the sport. The final match at Roland Garros against Nadal was likely never going to be one of those moments for him.
That seemed more and more certain as the third set went on.
Championship point number five ended with drop shot that sunk into the clay and never gave Theim a chance to respond. What happened next was as routine as anything Nadal did during the match.
The arms raised up, the clapping towards the crowd, the trophy being presented to a player they might as well just name it after, all of it was standard.
That didn’t make it any less special. Nadal on clay never is.
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