Nadal may be the ‘King of Clay’ but Thiem is more than a prince
Rafael Nadal lifted a record-extending 12th French Open title, but Dominic Thiem is primed for clay court success and he has what it takes to dominate at Roland Garros in the future writes Charles Perrin.
Nadal's historic 12th success at Roland Garros on Sunday was a victory that came as little surprise as the Spaniard is the undisputed ‘King of Clay’ and has dominated a Grand Slam tournament like no other player in history.
The world No 2 oozes class and he was in control from the off against Thiem, barely giving his Austrian counterpart room to breathe. His innate ability to read and master every point and move through the gears has made him an indomitable force.
12 months ago, Nadal thrashed Thiem – running out a straight sets winner – 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. This time round at Roland Garros, the script was similar although this time Thiem grabbed a set forcing Nadal to wait that little bit longer to taste succes.
In beating Thiem, the 33-year-old has closed the gap on Roger Federer in the men's all-time majors list to just two.
While the question of who will succeed the 18-times Grand Slam champion on clay remains a deep and searching one, Nadal’s answer during his victory speech offered some insightful clues.
Accepting the Coupe des Mousquetaires, Nadal said: “Dominic, sorry you are one of the best examples we have on tour a very hard worker always with a smile on your face and a good person.
"Thanks for being a great inspiration for me and for a lot of small kids around the world I know how tough it is to lose finals but that is sport.
" If I want to lose to someone it would be you because you deserve it well done and keep going - you will win this for sure."
"Thank you to everyone at Roland Garros. It's the best tournament in the world.
"Thanks to my team and family. Not long ago we didn't know if we could compete here it means a lot to me. thanks for supporting me in the most complicated times.
"I want to thank his majesty the King for coming to support me. "I can't explain the emotion at holding the trophy a 12th time. I hope to return next year."
This wasn’t just a kind gesture and hollow words from Nadal. His words carry more weight than others on the ATP circuit and aside from being a brilliant ambassador for tennis, he is also very humble.
If anything, Thiem will be wiser after his two failures at Roland Garros. With a 90-2 loss record, Nadal has been a near immovable object in Paris and it is a case of the chasing pack being patient.
In Thiem’s case, he certainly has the game. He possesses one of the most devastating single-handed backhands and he knows how to mix it up. The 25-year-old has beaten Nadal in three sets before on clay, but five setters are a different animal.
While Stefanos Tsitsipas has also been talked up about as a future Slam calendar, Thiem’s time is now.
He is a master of his own destiny and he’s no flash in the pan. Thiem is not merely a prince, he can come to call Roland Garros home just like Nadal has done.