Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal wins 12th French Open, closes in on Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record

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For Rafael Nadal, make it 12 French Open titles. And 18 Grand Slams overall, moving closer than ever to Roger Federer‘s total.

Nadal dug deep, like only he can do at Roland Garros, to extinguish the world’s second-best clay-courter, Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in a rematch of last year’s final.

“I still hold the passion for what I am doing, that’s all,” Nadal told John McEnroe on NBC. “Then, of course, you need to be a little bit of lucky and be ready for these two weeks. Happened a lot of times in my career.”

Nadal, 93-2 in a 15-year French Open career, now has twice as many titles at this Slam than any other man (Björn Borg). He became the first player, man or woman, to win any Slam 12 times. Margaret Court won 11 Australian Championships, though some were played in an amateur era.

“Twelve times here,” Thiem said in the trophy presentation, followed with an incredulous cackle. “It’s unreal.”

Nadal moved within two Slams of Federer’s record tally for the first time in his career, after failing in all 14 previous majors with a chance to do it.

“It’s a motivation, but it’s not my obsession,” Nadal said of the chase. “If you ask me whether I would like it, of course. If that’s a goal in my career, no. It’s not what makes me get up every morning or go and train and play.”

Sunday’s turning point came at the beginning of the third set. Nadal, after dropping a set to Thiem for the first time in four French Open meetings, won the first 11 points in breaking the Austrian twice. Broken is a good term. Thiem won just two games the rest of the match.

“I dropped in my game for some reason,” Thiem said. “It’s not that bad against some other guys, but Rafa stepped on me.”

Thiem’s task was unprecedented, to beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in back-to-back matches at a Slam (and on back-to-back days).

“I just come from heaven to hell, I guess,” he said. “You have to beat seven good players to win this tournament, and then towards the end, you have to beat one or two true legends.”

Still, he padded an argument the last two weeks as one of the greatest in history not to win a Slam. He is the only active man younger than 30 to reach a final and not win a major. The men to make four Grand Slam semifinals and two finals, like Thiem has done, and never lift a trophy: Todd Martin, Miloslav Mecir and Cedric Pioline.

“Sorry,” Nadal said to Thiem. “Keep going. You will win this for sure.”

Nadal opened his year by withdrawing from an Australian Open tune-up event with a thigh strain, raising concerns for a player who has missed Slams due to wrist and knee problems.

After making the Australian Open final, where he was routed by Djokovic, he had to withdraw again before a Federer clash in Indian Wells in March. This time, a knee injury. Then Nadal lost his first three clay-court events this spring: to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo, Thiem in Barcelona and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid.

In his last event before Roland Garros, Nadal beat both Tsitsipas and Djokovic in Rome, consolidating his favorite status with his first title of 2019.

“I have been going through some very tough moments, the last 18 months,” he said. “When I started the clay-court season without the best preparation, have been some low moments for me. The thing that I am proud of, more than even the trophy, that I was able to, with the help of my family and team, keep going.”

Nadal heads to the season’s last two Slams with a chance to draw even with Federer. But it will be difficult, no more so than at Wimbledon in three weeks. Nadal last won the grass Slam in 2010 and has made it past the fourth round just once in the last seven years.

Djokovic should enter as the favorite, but he’s now three Slams behind Nadal. The Spaniard is doing his best to distance himself from and draw near to, arguably, his two biggest rivals for greatest in history.

There are no arguments, though, when it comes to spring time in Paris.

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WATCH LIVE: Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem in French Open men’s final

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Rafael Nadal goes for a record-extending 12th French Open crown, while Dominic Thiem eyes his first major title at Roland Garros, live on NBC Sports.

Nadal and Thiem face off for a second straight French Open final. Thiem, a 25-year-old Austrian, has never taken a set off the Spaniard in three meetings on the Paris red clay.

If Nadal wins, he will have 18 Grand Slam singles titles, moving within two of Roger Federer‘s record total for the first time.

WATCH LIVE: French Open Men’s Final — 9 a.m. ET

Nadal, 33, has looked every bit the pre-tournament favorite, dropping just one set en route to the final. He swept No. 7 Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Roger Federer in the semifinals on Friday.

Thiem will attempt to pull off a first in Grand Slam history — beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in back-to-back matches. He took out the top-ranked Serb in five sets in a semifinal that began Friday and finished Saturday, giving him half the rest that Nadal received going into the final.

Outside of Roland Garros, Thiem is 4-4 against Nadal on clay, including winning their last two meetings on the surface outside of Paris.

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Rafael Nadal chases different kind of history in French Open final

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Rafael Nadal may be 11-0 in French Open finals, but he’s lost at some point in all 14 Grand Slams when given the chance to draw within two titles of Roger Federer‘s record total.

That’s the real history Nadal chases in Sunday’s final against Dominic Thiem (9 a.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app): an 18th Slam to close in on Federer’s 20. He already owns the Roland Garros record book.

“The day that we start thinking about if it’s incredible or not probably will be the day to do another thing,” Nadal said when told he is trying to double Björn Borg‘s previous Open Era record of six French Open crowns. “So what I have to do today is not think about if it’s incredible. … Even if it’s something I never dreamed about five, six, eight years ago.”

Thiem, who was 11 when Nadal won his first Roland Garros crown in 2005, said he never would have dreamed of playing Nadal in a French Open final. But now it’s happening a second straight year.

The fourth-seeded Austrian can become the first man to beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in back-to-back matches at a Grand Slam. But he must do it on 23 hours’ rest (to Nadal’s 47) and knowing he’s lost all nine sets to Nadal in three French Open meetings. Nadal is 92-2 in his French Open career.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Thiem said after dumping top-ranked Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in a semifinal that started Friday and finished Saturday after four interruptions. “I said last year that I hope to get another chance in a Grand Slam final and hope to do better then, so tomorrow there is the chance.”

Thiem is undoubtedly more accomplished than a year ago, when Nadal told him on court, “I’m sure that you will win here soon.” Thiem has this season beaten Djokovic, Federer (twice, including from a set down in the Indian Wells final for his biggest career title) and, most importantly, Nadal on clay.

“It was six weeks ago,” Thiem said Saturday of defeating Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the Barcelona semifinals. “It’s way tougher to play him here.”

But Thiem’s record against Nadal on clay overall — 4-7 — is among the best. Djokovic is 7-17. Federer fell to 2-14 when Nadal swept him in Friday’s semifinal.

“I know how to play against him. I have a plan,” Thiem said before the 2018 French Open final, which he lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Nadal must be aware. He praised Thiem after their first meeting in the 2014 French Open second round.

“This player has a huge potential and could be one of the ones who’s going to replace us,” he said when Thiem was ranked 57th and playing his second major event.

Five years later, Thiem is now, as one journalist put it to Djokovic, the Ringo Starr of men’s tennis. Ranked fourth behind Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

“I’m sure some people would debate if Ringo Starr was the less famous,” Djokovic replied. “Some people liked him the most.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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