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Tennis Paris • Ricky’s Pick For The French Open Men’s Singles Final: Nadal vs. Thiem

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays Roger Federer of Switzerland during their men’s semi final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2019. EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

In the words of Yogi Berra–which make sense and don’t make sense at the same time–it’s deja vu all over again.

 

Yes, the 2019 French Open men’s singles final matchup is the one we all just witnessed last year: Rafael Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem.

 

It makes sense, too, as Nadal and Thiem have been the two best clay-courters in the world over the past three seasons. Their latest reward for such dirt prowess is a rematch on Sunday of the 2018 Roland Garros title tilt, won by Nadal 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

 

Overall, the 33-year-old Spaniard is leading the head-to-head series 8-4–including 7-4 on clay. Their only showdown away from the red stuff is their most memorable so far, as Nadal outlasted Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) in the 2018 U.S. Open quarterfinals. They most recently collided earlier this spring in the Barcelona semis, where Thiem pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 surprise.

 

Of course this is a much different situation and a much different Nadal. The 11-time FO champion has raised his level dramatically on the heels of a March knee injury and rare clay-court setbacks in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid to capture the Rome title and reach Sunday’s championship match–his 12th in 15 career trips to RG–without any trouble. David Goffin snagged a set in the third round, but Yannick Hanfmann, Yannick Maden, Juan Ignacio Londero, Kei Nishikori, and Roger Federer all succumbed in straights.

 

Thiem’s roller-coaster fortnight was a wild ride early, briefly smoothed out with beatdowns of Gael Monfils and Karen Khachanov, and then went haywire again in the semis against Novak Djokovic. After a total of four hours and 13 minutes of play on both Friday and Saturday, the Austrian survived a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 thriller that featured a trio of rain delays.

 

“Novak, Dominic, and myself are maybe the players who have had the best results on [this] surface,” Nadal commented. “So (in) the finals, (it) will be the most complicated opponent for me. In a final like this one, the opponent is always at a very high level–but that’s the rule of sports. That’s why this sport is even more interesting and even better.”

 

Thiem vs. Djokovic was certainly interesting, not only due to competitiveness but also because of the controversial stopping and starting. Now the question is if the underdog can challenge–and even defeat–a second straight all-time-great opponent on a second straight day.

 

“I think it’s really important that I go into the match with the belief to win,” Thiem noted. That’s the most important thing…. I (have) had some very good matches in the past against him on clay, and I also beat him on clay already.

 

“Of course it’s big dream for me to win [the] match tomorrow, to win this title. But I also have in my head that [maybe] it’s not happening tomorrow–which can happen easy because of the opponent [who] is on the other side of the net. So I think I don’t make (for) myself too much pressure.”

 

Thiem is absolutely correct that it may not happen for him, as Nadal is obviously a huge favorite for multiple reasons. He is a 17-time Grand Slam champion (11 at the French), is currently on an 11-match winning streak, and has played only two matches–and just six sets–dating back to last Sunday night. Thiem, contrarily, will be taking the match court in same shape or form for a fourth straight day.

 

Thiem’s clay-court level and his experience–albeit not a favorable one–from last year should help him make this one more competitive than last season’s final.

 

But you can’t go against the King of  Clay.

 

That just wouldn’t make sense.

 

Pick: Nadal in 4

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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