PARIS: Dominic Thiem remembers sitting in front of a TV to follow along as Rafael Nadal made his Grand Slam final debut and won his first French Open title back in 2005.
Thiem was 11 at the time.
On Sunday, Thiem was right out there at Court Philippe Chatrier, too, making his initial appearance in a major final, swapping shots with that very same Nadal. Thiem stayed with him for the better part of a set, before Nadal pulled away for a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory and his 11th championship at Roland Garros.
“Physically, I enjoyed (it) more watching him on the couch,” Thiem said with a smile. “Actually, when he won here the first four or five times, I was always watching it. Of course, it’s really a great thing that I made my way and that I was competing in a final against him.”
But only so much of a thrill. Thiem did not wind up with the trophy he really wanted.
“Still, I’m disappointed, of course. It was a final. I really wanted to win,” the 24-year-old Austrian said. “I gave everything I had, and I’m the loser of today. So at the end, it’s not the best day.”
Nadal said he expects to see Thiem back in a final one day — and with a different result.
“I am sure,” Nadal said after the match, “you will win here in the next couple of years.”
The No. 7-seeded Thiem was trying to become only the second player from Austria to earn a Grand Slam title; Thomas Muster won the 1995 French Open.
“For sure, me, I’m confident that this was not my last Grand Slam final,” Thiem said, “and that’s my biggest goal: to get into the next one and then to do better than today.”
He has come close in Paris before, losing in the semifinals last year (to Nadal) and in 2016 (to Novak Djokovic).
And entering Sunday, there was at least some reason to believe that Thiem could make things interesting in the final. He is, after all, the only player to beat Nadal on red clay each of the past two seasons.
Nadal is 50-2 on the surface in that span. The losses came against Thiem at Rome in May 2017 and at Madrid last month.
After an early swap of service breaks in Paris, it was 4-all in the opening set. That’s when Nadal took charge, holding for a 5-4 lead, then breaking to take the set as Thiem made four unforced errors in a row. That was part of a five-game run that sent Nadal on his way.
Thiem didn’t think that loose game to end the first set was as crucial as it might seemed to everyone else.
“I just missed some close balls,” he said. “It was just terrible misses. And it was, for sure, not the turning point.”
Perhaps. But under so much pressure from Nadal all afternoon, Thiem made mistakes that piled up. He wound up with 42 unforced errors to Nadal’s 24. Thiem also made 37 forced errors to Nadal’s 21.
Maybe nerves were a factor in Thiem’s performance.
Certainly, Nadal played a role.
“I mean, it’s a big goal for me to play, soon, another Slam final,” Thiem said. “Of course, it’s going to be easier then, a little bit, because it’s not going to be the first time anymore.”
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