Thiem: "Nadal stepped on me"

Being runner-up for the second straight year is heaven and hell, says No.4 seed.

Dominic Thiem© Pauline Ballet / FFT
 - Kate Battersby

If you want to know exactly how it feels to be defeated by Rafael Nadal in the Roland-Garros final, then Dominic Thiem had just the phrase.

“He stepped on me,” said Thiem. “I’ve come from heaven [beating No.1 seed Novak Djokovic in the semi-final] to hell. You have to beat seven good players at this tournament, and one or two legends. That's a unique and also brutal thing.

“Beating Novak was one of my biggest victories in my career. I beat 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 clay-court player of all time. I was feeling so happy, with such a good win, and now of course I lost.

"I failed to make my biggest dream in my tennis life come true.”

There was no prevarication from the Austrian, no polite fiction in his phrasing. Ninety minutes after he was beaten by the Spaniard for the second successive year in the ultimate showdown, he told it like it was. The No.4 seed spoke with composure and calm, in the manner of a man delivering factual witness testimony to a catastrophe observed.

Not once has Nadal lost a Roland-Garros final. Six other men have experienced the same as Thiem during the Spaniard’s 12-year ownership of the Coupe des Mousquetaires, and once again there was nothing to be done for the runner-up but face the facts.

“In the first two sets I played very good tennis,” said Thiem. “And then I completely missed the start of the third set, and he came out like a rocket, full power. I had a little drop, which against most players would not be that bad, but he’s such a great champion that he took the chance and stepped right on me – a 0-3 double break, the set is almost gone. So that was the turning and the key point.

“How he was performing is unbelievable. It's very tough. Just the numbers are crazy. Twelve times the opponents in the finals failed to beat him. So also, me, I didn't have the right choices or tactics in this match.

“He won 18 Grand Slams, which is a big number, only two less than Roger. Definitely he's one of the greatest of all time. In this match I saw why.”

As did everyone watching. How many more times will Nadal’s name be inscribed on the trophy he has made his own? Thiem confirmed that in his view, far from the Spaniard losing his edge as the post-30th birthday years rack up, Nadal is actually still getting better.

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem© Amelie Laurin / FFT

“He is improving and developing his game,” he said. “I didn't feel tired in the match. But a match like the semi-final, beating Novak over two days with all the interruption, it leaves traces on the body and also on the mind.

“I was closer than last year in the final. I failed, but I gave everything I had in these two weeks. That's all I could do. Was not enough.

"But I love this tournament with all my heart. This time next year, I’ll try again for sure.”