ROLAND GARROS, France
Men’s Championship Match:  Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs.  Dominic Thiem (AUT)
Given his recent loss to the Austrian on clay last month, Nadal had to be focused and he was, jumping out to an early break lead only to lose it because of some ferocious forehand winners from Thiem. The Austrian was determined to hang with the king of clay and did so for the better part of the first set. His first real test came when he served at 4-5 down to stay in the first set. Sometimes the pressure to hold to stay in a set is even worse than the pressure of serving out the set.
Thiem came prepared with his five weapons: big serve, brutal forehand, powerful backhand, great mobility and youth. One by one, the great Nadal neutralized each weapon, which left the Austrian deflated. Pressure, what pressure? It was all expected to be on Nadal’s shoulders, after all he was the defending champion and needed to win to retain his number one ranking; yet, there was a lot of pressure on the young Austrian as well. Thiem was trying to win his first major title plus do what no one had ever done, defeat Nadal in the final of the French Open.
Despite having the bigger serve, Thiem was the one struggling more to hold serve. Sometimes serve placement is more important than pace and Nadal placed his serves perfectly. There were some ferocious exchanges between both players and the quality of tennis was of the first order. The unknown was whether or not Thiem could sustain that level of play? The answer came at almost an hour into the match, in the tenth game of the first set when he made four unforced errors and was broken at love (0-40) to give the first set to Nadal.
If there was pressure before the match started for the young Austrian, the pressure doubled when he lost the first set. Now if he wanted to win the title, he would have to do so coming back from a set deficit. It had taken a grueling hour to lose the first set; just how much did Thiem have in his tank?
Nadal had the advantage of playing on this court so many more times than his opponent and he also had more dimensions to his game. When you are as dominant on the surface as Nadal is, there is also that aura that Thiem was trying to overcome. The hole he dug by losing the first set got bigger when he went down an early break in the second set and when he lost the second set, the result was inevitable.
As often happens with players when they contest a match against a higher ranked player, if they fail to capitalize on early opportunities they ultimately pay the price. With each incredible get by Nadal, Thiem’s frustration and disbelief mounted. Nadal was unrelenting in his attack and it eventually broke Thiem’s will. Despite a little scare about a potential wrist injury in the third set, in the end it was a straight set (6-4, 6-3, 6-2) victory for the king of clay.
CONGRATULATIONS TO RAFAEL NADAL ON WINNING HIS 11TH ROLAND GARROS TITLE (A feat that no one else has accomplished in the Open Era).
SOURCE OF IMAGES: Zimbio.com (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Europe: Rafael Nadal with trophy; Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe: Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory; and Cameron Spencer/Getty Images Europe: Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem at net).