French Open Final Rafa Nadal v Dominic Thiem Preview
You will hear a lot today about Thiem facing the toughest test in tennis, beating Nadal on clay at Roland Garros. Nadal has only lost twice in his 80+ matches at this tournament, once to Djokovic and once to Robin Soderling (remember him?). For me the most incredible statistic about Nadal's success is that this is his 11th final and he has won all 10 before this. To win every final of a Grand Slam 10 times in a row is an incredible effort.
As good as Nadal is he is not playing at quite the same level he used to here but what he is doing at the moment has been more than good enough to still knock out the competition. Seeing him rattled by the diminuative Diego Swartzman and be relieved for another rain break that may have saved him going two sets to love down (anyone remember the Zverev match from three weeks ago) will give hope to Thiem today.
The keys to the match:
- Thiem will have to play agressively and be able to make winners at a good percentage compared to unforced errors. What I mean by this is that Thiem needs to be hitting his big shots near the lines and for them to be going in most of the time. Nadal has shown some vulnerability when he comes under an attacking style like this, Zverev and Swartzmann's massive forehands were dominating him for long periods of their respective matches.
- Thiem must be able to stay in rallies and wait for the right shot, if he starts attacking every ball he will be in a world of trouble.
- The one handed backhand is a tough shot to be super consistent with and Thiem will have to be able to handle the extreme topspin with it. The one thing Nadal used to go after Federer with was that one handed backhand and on clay you are going to have to hit a hell of a lot of them. Thiem has a great one but it probably hasn't been tested as much as it will today.
- Can Thiem go the distance? Thiem has shown he can beat Rafa in 3 set matches on clay but 5 is a different beast this is one of the biggest unknowns going into today. Thiem loves to win in straight sets and has not had many tests over the distance. If this went to a 5th and the first 4 sets took 3 hours+ it would be hard to pass on Rafa at 1.5+ unless he had injury concerns.
- Watch the weather, for me Nadal plays a lot better in hotter conditions on clay, the ball bounces higher and his topspin is even more extreme. When it is overcast or damp he struggles as his loopy forehand often ends up inside the service box and can be killed off by a big hitter like Thiem.
- Can Thiem handle the pressure? It is easy to forget that Thiem has never been to a Grand Slam final because of his success on clay but this is the case. These first times usually go one of two ways, Thiem could be nervy and play poorly or Thiem could thrive on the situation and raise his game. Keep an eye out early for signs of either of these and trade accordingly but bare in mind these things can change throughout a match. So, if Thiem starts nervy and goes behind early he may shake it off as he settles and remembers this is just another tennis match. Or if Thiem starts in blistering form he may not be able to keep the level up or may tighten up the nearer he gets to winning it.
You have probably noticed I have barely mentioned Nadal in this preview. The reason for this is simple, we kind of know exactly what we will get from Nadal. A really solid clay court game that is extremely tough to beat and a middle ground between attack and defence. Not to forget a 10 time Roland Garros champion, the undoubted king of clay and probably the best there has or ever will be. Thiem can beat him today but he will have to play the match of his life.