Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open crown on Sunday to leave Dominic Thiem crushed, and a packed Parisian stadium shaking their heads in wonder.
The 33-year-old Spaniard came through 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 to clinch his 18th Grand Slam triumph – two behind Roger Federer’s record mark of 20.
“Being honest, I never complain much, and I never tried to think about, ‘Well, I’m going to catch Roger or not’,” said Nadal.
“I am not very worried about this stuff,” he said. “You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger TV or better garden.
“That’s not the way that I see life.”
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) June 9, 2019
The first set of Sunday’s final had been one for the ages, the second ran it close, but after three hours and one solitary minute on Sunday all that mattered was that Nadal was once again in familiar pose, flat on his back in the clay.
For much of the contest, rarely, if ever, has any opponent played so well against Nadal on this Philippe Chatrier centre court.
Rarely, if ever, has the best of the young guns Thiem struck the ball so firmly, or played with such purpose and aggression.
But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. Not even before Thiem ultimately ran out of steam.
Nadal becomes the first player to win the same Grand Slam title 12 times, going past Margaret Court’s 11 Australian Opens.
“It’s incredible. I can’t explain the feeling,” Nadal told the crowd.
“For me it was a dream to play here in 2005, and I could not imagine I would be back here in 2019. It’s a very special moment for me.
“I want to say congratulations to Dominic. I feel sorry … he deserves it. He has absolute intensity and passion for this sport. I wish him all the best for the future.”
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) June 9, 2019
Physically, Thiem had looked strong and resolute.
But who can say what mental toll his rain-delayed semi-final victory over world number one Novak Djokovic had taken.
The Austrian had to play on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now Sunday, while Nadal had Saturday off after dispatching Federer on Friday before the rain set in.
Certainly it would have taken a monumental effort to remain mentally positive after playing an opening set as he did, and coming out of it empty handed.
Nadal rolled on, soaking up Thiem’s best shots until Thiem’s final ball drifted long and Nadal was again flat on his back in that red clay in celebration.
By this stage, Thiem, too, could only look on in admiration.
“That’s a unique and also brutal thing, I guess, in our sport, in tennis, that I won six amazing matches,” said Thiem.
“I beat yesterday one of the biggest legends of our game. Not even 24 hours later, I have to step on court against another amazing legend of our game, against the best claycourt player of all time.
“That also shows how difficult nowadays it is to win a Grand Slam. That’s what I meant yesterday. I was feeling so happy, with such a good win, and today, of course, I lost.
“I failed to make my biggest dream in my tennis life come true, so I don’t feel that good like yesterday.”
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