Rafael Nadal in the final of Roland Garros 2019, France
Rafael Nadal in the final of Roland Garros 2019, France | (MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Tennis | Roland Garros 2019 | Nadal withstands Thiem’s challenge to lift historic 12th title

By Ros Satar, at Roland Garros

  • Rafael Nadal [2] def. Dominic Thiem [4] 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1
  • Wins a record 12th Roland Garros title
PARIS, FRANCE – Rafael Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem for the second year running, to claim an historic 12th Roland Garros.


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Rafael Nadal [2] def. Dominic Thiem [4] 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1

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Roland Garros and the pristine new Court Philippe Chatrier will have to wait another year before the King of Clay is dethroned, as Rafael Nadal overcame the spirited challenge of Dominic Thiem to lift a 12th Roland Garros crown.

Having defeated World No. 1 Novak Djokovic over two days and well over four hours in a tense five-setter, many wondered if Thiem’s exertions would cost him. The attacking tennis on view not just from him but from Nadal proved that he is one of the fittest men on the tour, and he was the first to claim a break, but was pegged back immediately. A poor game from Thiem saw him broken once more before Nadal closed out the first set comfortably.

The second set was very much a server’s set with nary a sniff of a break point for either player, until a tight game by Nadal, which saw Thiem suddenly find himself with two set points, needing just the one to level things up.

However, take a set off the King of Clay at your peril, as Nadal broke Thiem to love in the first game of the third set, rubbing salt in the wounded legs of the Austrian with another break on the way to a 4-0 lead. Although Thiem managed just one game in that set, Nadal coasted to a 2-1 lead.

It was another early break at the start of the second set, and just for a fraction of a second it looked as though there might be a late revival of the Austrian’s fortunes to make up for his being totally overwhelmed here a year ago. However, his failure to take any from the two break point chances sealed his fate – he would still only be the heir (apparent) to the throne.

Thiem started to cut a dejected figure, with the French crowd doing their best to lift him, but a second break just expedited the inevitable.

With this win, Nadal is the first player in history to win 12 singles titles at any Grand Slam event, the second player in the Open Era to win 12 singles titles at any Tour-level event (Martina Navratilova, Chicago between 1978 and 1992), and for good measure extends his own record at Roland Garros.

More importantly, he now closes the gap on Roger Federer and trails his 20 Slam titles by just two. Coming into this tournament Djokovic looked unassailable with his 15 titles chasing holding all four once more. Now that 15 seems back in the distance.

There are a number of other records:

  • Third oldest Roland garros champion in the Open Era at 33 years and 6 days old (Andres Gimeno 1972, 34 years 306 days) and Ken Rosewall 1968, 33 years 220 days).
  • Fourth man in the Open era to win four or more Grand Slams after turning 30, joining Federer, Rod Laver and Rosewall.


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Thiem: ‘Rafa stepped on me’

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There is no doubt that Thiem is getting closer to a Slam breakthrough. He has reached the semi-finals four times here and gone on to reach the final twice – surely it is a matter of time before he gets a foot in the door.

He said, after the match: “The beginning was unbelievable intense of the match. And I dropped a little bit towards the end of the first set. Then I played the way I should play in the second set, very aggressive.

“I think I made only five points in the return games, and, I mean, four of them obviously at 6-5. After these two sets, I dropped a little bit my level. I mean, then Rafa, who won this tournament 12 times, he stepped on me. Afterwards, it got really tough for me.”

Working now with Nicolas Massu has seen perhaps his best performance, and his fitness has never looked more certain.

He continued: “I had, until now, my best year for sure. I have won Indian Wells, Barcelona, finals again here. Even though I didn’t win the tournament, still, two years finals in a row, it’s nice. I think that I developed my game. I was also closer than last year in the finals, I have the feeling, I mean, especially in the first two sets.

“So, I’m on the right way. And I failed today, but my goal and my dream is still to win this tournament or to win a Grand Slam tournament. I will try my best next year again.

“I gave everything I had in these two weeks. That’s all what I could do. Was not enough at the end, but I went very far. I’m looking forward to continue working with [my team] and to come back in the grass season.”


Nadal admits to not enjoying playing & what changed for him

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Nadal’s constant battles with injury have taken their toll and he admitted that as recently as Barcelona at the start of the season, he took a long hard look at what needed to happen, as he was not enjoying the sport.

He said, in his post-match press conference: “Is tough when you have issues in a row. Honestly after Indian Wells, as I said couple of times, mentally I was down. Physically and mentally, but for me I always put more attention on the mental side.

“Mentally, I lost a little bit that energy, because I had too many issues in a row. Is tough when you receive one, another, and then sometimes you are groggy, you know, (smiling). You know from where the things are coming.

“For me it was so important that team, family, all these moments have the people, the right people around me. That helps a lot. Honestly, Monte-Carlo and the beginning of Barcelona I said a couple of times have been tough for me, because mentally I was not enjoying. Too much worried about the health and, being honest, too negative.”

For the King of Clay to be feeling like this at the start of the European clay court season might sound alarming, but he stopped and considered what the options might have to be, if he wanted to rekindle the joy and compete again.

He continued: “After the first round in Barcelona, I was able to stay alone for a couple of hours in the room and think about it and think about what’s going on, what I need to do. And it have been a couple of issues that I had to decide, no? One possibility have been stop for a while and recover my body. And the other was change drastically my attitude and my mentality to play the next couple of weeks.

“Thinking a lot, finally I think I was able to change and was able to fight back for every small improvement that I was able to make that happen. And since that first match in Barcelona, I think the things have been improving every single day since today

“I played not bad in Barcelona the next three rounds. I played better in Madrid, and I played much better in Rome, and here I played a great event. So of course these small things that I have been improving every single day and doing with the right attitude, doing with the right passion, that’s the only way for me to be back where I am today.

“Of course have this trophy with me means a lot. But personally, the personal satisfaction of change the dynamic is the thing that I am more satisfied.”


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