Reporting from Paris, Reem Abulleil lists her three main takeaways from Rafael Nadal's victory over Dominic Thiem in the Roland Garros final.
There was a wind of change passing through Court Philippe Chatrier on Sunday as we were handed construction helmets by the tournament to take part in a ‘Demolition Party’ celebrating the past 30 years of that centre court stadium before it gets knocked down for renovations starting Monday.
But as the journalists and Roland Garros staff walked through the halls and corridors of the stadium, scribbling on the walls with markers, and bidding their farewells, there was no escaping the fact that when it came to the tennis that took place in Sunday’s final, nothing really had changed much compared to most of the past 13 years.
Once again Rafael Nadal outclassed the field en route to the final, and overwhelmed his opponent Dominic Thiem on Sunday in straight sets to lift the French Open trophy for an 11th time since his winning debut in 2005.
The Spaniard has dropped just one set of tennis here in three years.
Thiem described Nadal’s record 11 victories at Roland Garros as “one of the most outstanding things achieved in sport”. Thiem, who is the only player to defeat Nadal on clay these past two seasons is yet to take a set off the Mallorcan in three meetings contested against him at the French Open.
Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s final – which, in keeping with the theme of the day, was some form of demolition.
You’d think that standing in the middle of centre court to receive the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time might feel like business as usual for Nadal but you’d be sorely mistaken.
The 32-year-old was in tears as he was given an extended standing ovation during the trophy ceremony on Sunday. The only man to ever win the same Slam 11 times, and just the second player in history to do so – after Margaret Court – Nadal continues to treat the sport with the same passion he had when he was a teenager.
The older you get, the more you appreciate the special moments in life and probably Nadal feels that every Slam he wins at this stage of his career, could very much be his last.
TOUGH FOR THIEM
The 83-year-old Ken Rosewall, an eight-time Grand Slam champion and two-time winner at Roland Garros, presented the trophies to the two finalists on Sunday and was asked to make some comments about the match.
The Aussie legend admitted he wished there were more sets played and that Thiem’s game was “a bit disappointing”. It probably wasn’t the best moment for Rosewall to drop any truth bombs, but he meant well.
While many thought Thiem would push Nadal in the final, based on the fact that he beat the Spaniard in straights just four weeks ago in Madrid, the reality is that Nadal is a whole different animal on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros.
As Thiem explained in his press conference, his game plan was the right one, but his execution was not. The Austrian No. 7 seed was aggressive but missed more than he should have, and when you’re facing Nadal, you cannot miss or allow him to get in front, because once he’s in the driver’s seat, he accelerates and never looks back.
Considering it’s his first Grand Slam final, the 24-year-old Thiem has plenty to look forward to. And he sounds confident in his future chances, promising the Paris crowd that his next trophy ceremony speech here would be conducted in French.
RACE FOR SLAM RECORD IS BACK ON
With Roger Federer and Nadal splitting the last six Grand Slams it’s difficult to predict which one of the two players will end up with the men’s all-time record of most majors won.
Federer is obviously in pole position for that record, having amassed 20 compared to Nadal’s 17. They’re both in great shape, are the top two players in the world, and appear to maintain their advantage over their opponents when it comes to competing over best-of-five sets at the majors.
Nadal says he’s not obsessed with the idea of catching up with Federer, insisting it’s not how he operates. But if his body holds up, surely he knows he has a legitimate chance of getting to that record.