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Rafael Nadal Roland Garros 2018 Sport Tennis

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Can Thiem end Nadal's Roland Garros dominance?

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Austria's Dominic Thiem plays Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Can Dominic Thiem boldly go where no man has gone before?


Apologies to Gene Roddenberry, creator of the cult sci-fi series Star Trek, for beaming in one of the classic lines from the show. But it is a question that envelopes the 2018 French Open men’s singles final as the 24-year-old Austrian prepares to take on the world number one Rafael Nadal.

Nadal has lost at Roland Garros but never in a final. The clash against Thiem will be Nadal’s 11th Sunday showdown on the centre court.

Nadal has made the final Sunday on centre court his own play pen. He has carved up Mariano Puerta, Roger Federer (four times), Novak Djokovic (twice), Robin Soderling, David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka.

Will Thiem buck the trend?

The fifth seed believes he has the credentials to do so having beaten Nadal at the Italian Open in 2017 and the Madrid Masters in the prelude to the 2018 French Open. But those were victories in best of three set matches

“I know how to play against him and I have a plan,” said Thiem after his semi-final victory over the unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato.

New generation

Sunday will be Thiem’s first appearance in a Grand Slam final. Many of his contemporaries will be keen to see him win.

Their generation has been kept from the game’s biggest prizes by the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. Stan Wawrinka, with three titles, since his first at the Australian Open in 2014 and Marin Cilic have broken up the routine but not to a significant extent.

The Big Four have kept everyone at bay. The kids have been looking in at the sweets. They want them but don’t have the powers to get inside.

Third time lucky?

Thiem has a fearsome backhand top spin and off that wing can deploy vicious slice too. The forehand is beefy and the serve has improved.

“Nadal is the big favourite against everybody,” acknowledged Thiem. “But I think if I'm facing Rafa, I'm not the one who has the pressure.”

The problem for Thiem is that Nadal has walked with expectation ever since his first title in Paris in 2005. And he has held up.

Soderling upended him in the last 16 in 2009, Djokovic accounted for him in the last eight in 2015 and a wrist injury forced his withdrawal in the third round in 2016.

That year Thiem reached the semi-final for the first time. Djokovic smashed him up in that one. In the 2017 semi-final, Nadal beat him. That was his second defeat to the maestro at Roland Garros. On Sunday he has a chance to make it third time lucky against the Spaniard in Paris.

“I'm aware that here it's tougher to win,” Thiem said. “He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure. The best of five is also different story.”

True. And Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros is not life as we know or understand it.