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Nadal racks up 12th French crown

  • Published at 08:08 pm June 9th, 2019
Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the French Open in Paris Sunday Reuters

The first set had been one for the ages, the second ran it close, but after three hours and one minute all that mattered was that Rafael Nadal was once again in familiar pose, flat on his back on the clay, a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 winner to clinch his 18th Grand Slam triumph in total

Defying the years and one of the most fierce onslaughts he has ever faced at Roland Garros, Rafa Nadal won his 12th French Open crown Sunday, leaving Dominic Thiem crushed and a packed Parisian stadium shaking their heads in wonder.

The first set had been one for the ages, the second ran it close, but after three hours and one minute all that mattered was that Nadal was once again in familiar pose, flat on his back on the clay, a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 winner to clinch his 18th Grand Slam triumph in total.

Of them all, this was one of his most satisfying.

Who could have noticed?

Rarely, if ever, has any opponent played so well against Nadal on the Philippe Chatrier centre court as Thiem did Sunday.

Rarely, if ever, has Thiem, the best of the young guns, struck the ball so firmly, or played with such purpose and aggression.

But it was not enough. 

Not nearly enough. 

Not even before Thiem ultimately ran out of steam.

The 33-year-old Nadal, who becomes the first player to win the same Grand Slam title 12 times, going past Margaret Court's 11 Australian Opens, now sits two major titles behind his great foe and men’s Grand Slam title record holder, 37-year-old Roger Federer.

Afterwards he would not be drawn on his Grand Slam title chase with Federer. 

Physically, Thiem had looked strong and resolute but who can say what mental toll his rain-delayed semi-final victory over world No 1 Novak Djokovic had taken?

The Austrian had had to play Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now Sunday while Nadal had enjoyed Saturday off, having dispatched Federer Friday before the rain set in.

Certainly it would have taken a monumental effort to remain mentally positive after playing an opening set as he did, and coming out of it empty handed.

Thiem slammed backhands for all they were worth, cleaned the lines with his forehand, and the sonic boom from his serve resonated around the court.

He grabbed the first break of the match to lead the opener 3-2 but four games later it was all over, 6-3 to Nadal, the Spaniard seemingly another inexorable step towards the crown.

It speaks volumes for the world number four Austrian that Thiem came out for the second set in the same fashion - throwing absolutely everything imaginable at his opponent.

Games passed with no break points in sight, and the tension ratcheted ever higher until the 12th game of the set when it snapped. Nadal rifled a two-fisted backhand just long to hand the levelling set to Thiem.

The French crowd erupted. 

Thiem clenched his fist. 

Nadal strode to the sidelines.

But within a flash Nadal had the upper hand again, winning 16 of the next 17 points to lead 4-0 before Thiem could even register any objection. 

A blink later the set was over, 6-1.

If Thiem had muttered ‘plus ca change’, he would have been forgiven.

So much effort to claw his way back, so little to show for it now.

Few people on the planet can hit a backhand like Thiem, even once. 

To do it time after time after time is boggling, but that is what it would take to unseat Nadal.

Still the Spaniard rolled on, soaking up Thiem's best shots, and the cliche beloved of numerous science fiction films and television series seemed appropriate. 

So it proved until Thiem’s final ball drifted long and Nadal was again flat on his back, adopting the pose that will adorn back pages and websites worldwide.

By this stage, Thiem, too, could only look on in admiration.

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