Surviving wind, rain, and top-four seeded opponents in the semis, Nadal and Thiem are now braced for one last battle this fortnight. Here are the main talking points heading into Sunday’s final.
Prince of clay looks to dethrone the king
A look ahead to Sunday's final between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem.
Peak confidence for Rafa
Nadal enters his 12th Roland-Garros final carrying an 11-match winning streak – having picked up the title in Rome last month.
He’s dropped just one set so far this fortnight, to David Goffin in the third round, and most importantly, snapped a five-match losing streak to Roger Federer by defeating the Swiss for the first time since 2014 in straight sets in Friday’s semi-finals.
That win over Federer has no doubt boosted Nadal’s confidence even more. “For me, personally, I have won a very important victory in my eyes,” the world No.2 said after the match. And given the wet and windy conditions the Spaniard impressively navigated through in the semis, it’s fair to assume he’ be ready for anything on finals day.
Thiem’s second chance
The Austrian No.4 seed has managed to improve his performances on each of his past four visits to Paris. Instead of feeling the burden of defending points annually at Roland-Garros, Thiem has instead drawn strength from his previous results here, making the semi-finals in 2016 and 2017 – losing to Djokovic and Nadal respectively – and the final in 2018.
He’s now back in the championship match, coming off a tough, two-day five-set win over Djokovic, and looking to challenge Nadal to the fullest.
The 25-year-old is armed with a new coach this year, Olympic champion Nicolas Massu, and can take stock from his four previous victories over Nadal, all of which have come on clay.
Tough luck with the schedule
After struggling in his opening week, Thiem elevated his game in wins over Gael Monfils, Karen Khachanov and Djokovic, but because of inclement weather cancelling play on Wednesday and suspending his semi-final on Friday, the No.4 seed will be competing for a fourth consecutive day when he faces Nadal in the final. Fatigue could play a part in how he performs.
What’s on the line?
Nadal is looking to become the first player – man or woman – to win 12 or more titles at the same Grand Slam, surpassing Margaret Court who won 11 Australian Opens.
“It is incredible, being honest, no?” Nadal said of his record in Paris, sending the interview room into a fit of laughter.
“Is something very special and difficult to explain, but here we are. And the day that we start thinking about if it's incredible or not probably will be the day to do another thing. So what I have to do today is not think about if it's incredible, because it's a real thing for me.
“Even if it's something I never dreamed about five, six, eight years ago, it's happening today. And my goal is just try to keep going. Is not about have excess of ambition but is about just try to keep enjoying the things that I am doing.”
If he wins, the Mallorcan would be just two Grand Slam titles behind Federer on the men’s all-time list of most majors won (Federer currently on 20, Nadal is on 17).
Thiem is the first player, outside the ‘Big Three’ of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, to make back-to-back Roland-Garros finals since Robin Soderling in 2009 and 2010.
He is looking to become just the second Austrian player – man or woman – to win a Grand Slam singles crown, and the first since Thomas Muster lifted the title here in 1995.
Thiem would be just the second player outside the ‘Big Three’ to win Roland-Garros since 2004 (Stan Wawrinka won in 2015).
“I was in the semi-finals with perhaps three of the greatest of all time, so it was unbelievable to beat one of them,” Thiem said after beating Djokovic in the last four.