They do not call Rafael Nadal the King of Clay for nothing – his dominance on the surface speaks volumes, and since taking an enforced break to get over injuries, he returned to the clay even more formidable than ever – if that is possible.
He stands head and shoulders above everyone on the terre battue of Paris for a reason, as he has come to understand everything the elements have thrown at him.
That is not to say Dominic Thiem’s time will come – it will, after knocking on the door for the last two years reaching the semi-finals, this is the next progressive step. But the crown prince will have to earn his crown.
Paris is not Madrid
People may point to the fact that Thiem recently beat Nadal in his own backyard in Madrid, as it were, but there are few things to remember here. Madrid is at altitude and although Nadal relishes the chance to play in front of Spanish fans, Madrid is a tricky place for him as the balls do fly and he does not have the same element of control he gets in Rome and Paris, which tend to be closer in conditions.
His returning has been solid
While Thiem and Nadal are almost spot on in their serving percentages this tournament, Nadal’s returning has tended to be a little sharper and he will look to neutralise that aspect of the Austrian’s game by getting balls back.
Nadal dropped a set to the plucky Diego Schwartzman and looked close to dropping a set as Juan Martin Del Potro put him under pressure but stepped up the pressure himself and Thiem will find that what would normally be winners against any other player will come back time and time again.
Nadal’s intensity from first ball to last
Nadal will look to wear the youngster down and as soon as Thiem’s level will drop, which it inevitably will in a best-of-five bash-a-thon, Nadal will pounce. Thiem admitted as much that even though he has the experience of facing the Spaniard twice here, both times it was straight sets losses.
Nadal might act as though he cares not for the record he continues to break. In truth we don’t really care either. But the chance to set the bar so high in terms of Roland Garros titles as to make it unassailable? Who would give up a chance for that? Certainly not Nadal.
POLL: Who will win the Roland Garros Men’s singles title?
The Roland Garros men’s final will be played on Sunday at 3pm (2pm BST).
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