Rafael Nadal, unbeaten in French Open finals, goes for remarkable 11th title on Sunday in Paris
Nadal, who is playing at a LeBron-like level, will go for his 17th Grand Slam when he plays Austria's Dominic Thiem
Rafael Nadal looks borderline unbeatable at the moment. The No. 1 men's tennis player in the world cruised on Friday -- looking vintage in domination --, who entered the French Open semis as No. 6 player in the ATP World Tour rankings.
On Sunday, Nadal will go up against Austria's Dominic Thiem, the eighth-ranked player in the world and someone who has defeated Nadal before. But this will be the first time they've met in a Grand Slam final. And of course, with it being on clay, Nadal is an overwhelming favorite.
How to watch Nadal vs. Thiem in the French Open men's final
- Date: Sunday, June 10
- Time: 9 a.m. EST
- Channel: NBC
- Stream: FuboTV (try for free)
Nadal has already established himself as one of the five greatest men's tennis players in history. In fact, plenty would claim him top-three at this point.
Sunday offers up an opportunity not just to witness his mesmerizing, ever-reliable talent on clay, but also a shot for his third Grand Slam in the past five of those events. Nadal won at Roland-Garros and took the US Open trophy in 2017.
Here's how the 32-year-old Spaniard looked Friday. Nadal, in frequent moments, appears to be aging backward. Some of the moves and shots he displayed against del Poltro were throwbacks to 2010 and 2011.
But if you think it's going to be a simple Sunday stroll for Nadal to get this 11th French Open title, consider that his opponent is a fitting foe on the final stage. Thiem, 24, is the only player to beat Nadal on clay in the past two years.
Nadal has won six of his nine matches against Thiem, all of them coming on that famously difficult red clay. Nadal is 49-2 since 2017 when playing on clay. Both losses came against Thiem.
The Austrian is hitting is stride, and seems to be in his prime, and so we could be in for a compelling final. Nadal's had some challenges at Roland-Garros' championship stage over the years, but few athletes in any sport have ever been more acclimatized to a venue the way Nadal has owned the terra firma of Roland-Garros' grounds.
Among the more absurd stats in all of sports: Nadal boasts an 85-2 lifetime record at Roland Garros. In this tournament, Nadal's only lost one set.
Can Thiem take at least two sets from Nadal on Sunday, and in the process, offer up Nadal's first challenge on a big stage in months? At this point, tennis enthusiasts would likely welcome it -- but might just as well appreciate Nadal if he were to overpower his way to another Coupe des Mousquetaires piece of hardware.
Though the sports are so different, Nadal's dominance in the past two weeks -- and stretching back to his US Open title in 2017 -- bring to mind how sensational LeBron James has been for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. Both men are at stages in their career that have previously been points of great decline for the greats who came before them. Yet Nadal and James are tapping into a cycle of near-peerless play that is redefining how we view the greats and what can be accomplished well more than a decade into all-time careers.
If Thiem's going to be able to overcome Nadal, beating the backhand is vital. It is as simple as it is hard: Thiem will likely need the best match of his life to earn his first major tennis title. Stamina will also prove critical, because here's the crucial detail for Thiem: his two wins over Nadal came in three-set matches, not five.
Sunday's final will be Nadal's 24th Grand Slam final, putting him second all time. The best? Roger Federer, of course, who's made 30 Grand Slam finals and won 20 of them. Federer and Nadal have something else ridiculous in common: they're the only two players in men's tennis history to reach at least 11 finals in a specific Grand Slam. Federer's 11 are at Wimbledon, and if Nadal beats Thiem on Sunday, he'll keep his flawless French final mark; he's never lost in the ultimate match at this event.
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