Rafael Nadal became the first player in history to win 12 singles titles at the same Grand Slam event by beating fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in a hard fought final at the French Open on Sunday to lift the Coupes Des Mousquetaires trophy. This broke a tie which he had with Margaret Court who won 11 Australian Championships across the amateur and Open Era. It was Nadal’s 950th career match win and he extended his record at Paris to an incredible 93-2 and won his 18th Slam title which now places him just two behind Roger Federer’s 20 and three clear of Novak Djokovic who has 15. It was his 82nd career title and he earns 2000 ATP points for the win. Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos won the women’s doubles title defeating the Chinese pair of Duan Yingying and Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-3.
The rematch between Nadal and Thiem started with very high intensity and featured some of the best rallies the tournament has seen as both players pushed each other to the very limit and running each other to every corner on the court. The opening phase saw an average rally length of over 8 shots but it was the Austrian fourth seed who was the first to break for 3-2 with an overhead smash winner after coming up with some powerful ground strokes that pushed the Spaniard back. Nadal who had made a few errors at the start tightened up his game and came up with some did not flinch breaking back immediately for 3-3 and then saves a break point to hold with a spectacular backhand cross court winner. Nadal would then use the momentum to break again coming up with a brilliant drop shot and good pass. He would serve out the set 6-3 also coming up with a serve and volley pattern to get the lead.
In the second set, both players settled down to a rhythm on their service winning with ease. But serving down 5-6, Nadal came up with some uncharacteristic errors after Thiem hit some deep returns and dropped serve to hand Thiem the second set at 7-5. At one set all, it was looking like this would turn out to be a long battle for supremacy. But at the start of the third set, Nadal started playing more aggressive attacking the net and the Austrian had a letdown as he dropped serve twice to go down 4-0. Thiem raised his level to compete hard but Nadal stayed strong to take the third set 6-1.
The fourth set again saw a competitive start as Thiem started hitting with impunity targeting Nadal’s forehand and gained a break point but the Spaniard saved it with a terrific forehand winner. Soon after Nadal would get the break and then staved off two more break points with good serves to consolidate the lead for 3-0. Nadal looked to race to a win when he had Thiem down 0-40 on serve but the Austrian came up with some clutch serves –two aces and another first serve to draw a weak reply which he put away for the winner to hold for 1-3. Nadal would win the next two games with some aggressive tennis including some fine volleys at the net and found himself serving for the match at 5-1. The second seed would come up with some good serves to reach double championship point. Thiem would save the first one but his return landed long on the second match point to hand Nadal the win after three hours and one minute. The Spaniard collapsed on the court in trademark fashion and was emotional after his historic triumph.
Regarding the match, Nadal said that he changed his approach after the second set. “He had served well. Every time I was in a bad position after he served because it’s very difficult to return when he’s in attacking position. He hits very hard. So I analyzed things, and I felt that I had to solve this particular problem. For the rest, I was playing well. But the important thing seemed to be not to give him the advantage when he was serving well.”
His opponent Thiem said, “The beginning was unbelievable intensity of the match. Then I played the way I should play in the second set, very aggressive. After those two sets, I dropped a little bit my level. Rafa, who won this tournament 12 times, he stepped on me. Afterwards, it got really tough for me. He played outstanding today, because especially in the first two sets I played very good tennis. What he was performing I think is unbelievable, really. 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.”
They say change is the only constant in life. But Nadal’s achievements and wins at Roland Garros would suggest otherwise.