Rafael Nadal believes Dominic Thiem will provide the toughest competition possible when the pair meet in Sunday’s final at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard is going for an unprecedented 11th French Open title, a defeat that would draw him level with Australian Margaret Court as the only winner of the same major title 11 times.
With 85 wins and just two defeats on the Paris clay since winning on his debut in 2005, Nadal would seem an overwhelming favourite.
However, Thiem is the only man to have beaten the world No.1 on clay this year and the Austrian seventh seed has three career wins over the Spaniard on his favourite surface.
“You know when you start the claycourt season that Dominic, he’s one of these players that have the chance to win every tournament that he’s playing,” said Nadal.
“Maybe even more here in Roland Garros because he’s strong physically. He has the power.
“He’s been a very complex opponent. He’s in the final, and he had a tough draw, so yes (he’s the toughest opponent I could have faced).”
Nadal, 32, admitted to nerves after losing the first set of his semifinal against Diego Schwartzman but his form has been mightily impressive otherwise.
Ominously for Thiem, the 16-time Grand Slam champion feels there is still room for improvement.
“I know I have to give a little more than I have given until now in this tournament,” added Nadal.
“This extra thing I have to give, I feel I have it inside me, but I have to go and get it.”
Thiem will be appearing in his first major final after losing in the French Open semifinals for the last two years, 12 months ago against Nadal.
He confirmed his place as Nadal’s leading rival on clay with his quarterfinal win over second seed Alexander Zverev.
“I have a plan,” said the 24-year-old, who beat Nadal in the Madrid Open quarterfinals last month.
“I will try everything that my plan [is] also going to work out a little bit here and not only in Madrid or in Rome.
“He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure. Best of five is also different story. I think also it’s a good thing that I faced him already twice here.
“I think if I’m facing Rafa, I’m not the one who has the pressure.”
12 December 2018
Towards the end of each year, the firing and hiring of coaching staff - or often a more si... More
16 February 2017
In the first part of our series analysing the similarities and differences between men's ... More
12 September 2018
When Ash Barty speaks about her career, she uses collective terms such as “we” and “... More