Later when Nadal had lost in Madrid Masters to Thiem, he was once again crowned the number one only to be snatched away by the Spaniard following his victory at Rome Masters. Nadal's introduction included a year-by-year accounting of every time he'd already won the French Open. At one point finally, Thiem tried going around the post in the penultimate game, just after a Nadal cross-court backhand return seared so close over the net cord that it made the Parisians murmur.
But once a competive first set went the way of the world number one, the plan became damage limitation and Nadal's "undecima" never looked in any doubt. There is not much more daunting of a task than doing so against Nadal at the French Open, where he is now 11-0 in finals and 86-2 overall. Throughout his 14 years competing here, Nadal has only lost two matches.
Thiem beat Nadal on clay twice, including last month in Madrid that ended Nadal's 21-match winning streak on clay and his streak of 50 straight sets won on his favorite surface. And of course, with it being on clay, Nadal is an overwhelming favorite. Thiem withstood a barrage of break points to hold in a marathon sixth game, which he thought he had won at 40-30 when he left a wide ball, only for the umpire to overrule the line judge. Nadal -5.5 games is available on the Exchange at [1.68] and given the fact that Nadal has tended to dominate Thiem on non-quick clay, this should be a very likely outcome if Nadal wins the final.
The first set had taken 57 minutes, in stiflingly humid conditions, but there was to be no let-up for the underdog in the second. Of those 20, the Spaniard only won one by hitting a victor. The French Open statisticians are nicer than they should be, as all but one of Thiem's 19 errors in that stretch were unforced (officially, 12 were unforced and seven were forced).
The defending champion was the hot favourite to retain his title and broke early in the first set. It clearly impacted his serve moving forward, but not his ground strokes.
However, the 32-year-old Nadal said such targets do not concern him, believing his caution is well-placed after an injury-hit career which has seen him sit out nine Grand Slam tournaments.
Nadal now has 17 Grand Slam titles to his name, leaving him just three short of Roger Federer's all-time record in the men's game.
Unlike a year ago - when those first few games realistically settled things - Thiem bounced back, breaking straight away.
The 24-year-old, who is scheduled to feature at the Fever-Tree Championships next week whose aggressive game style with his powerful serve should make him a feared opponent during the six-week grass-court campaign. He clearly isn't. For now, fans just watch and appreciate this unprecedented greatness for as long as they can.
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