In Spanish, it is undecimo. To be more grammatically precise, decimoprimera – and that sounds more fitting. Primero: first. Decimoprimera: eleventh.
Rafael Nadal is the first, the primera, at Roland Garros – there has never been a player like him and there probably never will be again. Yesterday he won his eleventh French Open title, his decimoprimero, with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Dominic Thiem.
“Win” barely described what he did to the world No 8: he bullied him, he bruised him, he bludgeoned him. And finally he crushed him.
“It’s amazing,” Nadal said. “I can’t describe my feelings. It’s not even a dream to win here for the 11th time because it’s impossible to think something like that.
“It’s really unbelievable. I’m very happy to have played a very good match today. It was the best match of the tournament for me. That was very important because Dominic is a very difficult rival, a very aggressive player. He’s a good friend and one of these players that the tour needs. I’m sure he will win here in the next couple of years.”
The young bloods have been threatening revolution for a couple of years now. Their aim, like every new generation, is to overthrow the establishment and take their place at the top table. But none of them have accounted for Nadal at Roland Garros. The 11-time champion is not so much an unbeatable player on the Parisian clay, he is a force of nature. No one and nothing can stop him.
If he is nervous – and he openly admits to nerves, especially in the first round – he finds a way to win. If he is playing badly, he finds a way to win. And if he is playing well, he is utterly untouchable. Thiem found Nadal playing well and may have nightmares about it for many months to come.
Not even cramp in his left arm in the third set slowed him down; Nadal will not be beaten in Paris, certainly not in a final. His career record at Roland Garros now stands at played 88, won 86, lost two. As for finals: played 11, won the lot.
At 24, Thiem is a little older than the much vaunted “NextGen” players such as Alexander Zverev and Hyeon Chung but he is the first of the new boys to establish himself as a threat at the grand slam events. Twice a Roland Garros semi-finalist, his run to the final this year shows progress and potential – he has pedigree on the French clay. He is also the only man to have beaten the Spaniard on the red dirt in the past two years.
The young man came with a plan. He though he knew how to nullify Nadal’s seemingly superhuman powers. But the plan was worthless. He could talk all he wanted about tactics, about keeping the ball away from Nadal’s forehand – it mattered not one jot. No book of strategy can counter Nadal’s desire and focus. As Novak Djokovic said a decade ago: Nadal does not play to win, he does not play to lose; he just plays. And that is the most dangerous weapon in his armoury.
There was never a moment of peace for Thiem. He began nervously, taking five minutes to win his first point. Not that it helped him much – he was a break down just seconds later. A start like that was like David going out to tackle Goliath and shooting himself in the foot before he left the house. It was not a great idea.
But then Nadal threw in a couple of errors, Thiem took a deep breath and leathered a couple of winners and suddenly the Spaniard’s serve had been broken. But if Thiem hoped that was the start of a turn around, he was sadly mistaken. He threw everything he could think of at Nadal but it made no difference – the primera was marching to his decimoprimera.
Nadal dropped just 24 points on his serve in three sets and two hours and 42 minutes. He faced just three break points – two of them in that third game of the first set. He broke Thiem five times and had a total of 17 break points.
Thiem tried with all his might but no one has ever beaten Nadal in a Roland Garros final. Thiem must wonder if anyone ever will.