French Open 2014: Rafael Nadal crushes Dominic Thiem to march into the third round
The match with Dominic Thiem was supposed to be an early test for Rafael Nadal in a considerably weaker section of the French Open draw. But Nadal played with customary consistency to show the young pretender his place and reminding him of the yawning divide that separates the men from the boys. Nadal was untouched by the power hitting of Thiem as he coasted into the third round with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory in two hours and five minutes on Phillipe Chatrier.
Each time Nadal walks out to play at Roland Garros he is acutely aware of his stature as the reigning lord of dirt. He has won this tournament eight times in the past nine years. No other man has won a Grand Slam title eight times, let alone eight times in nine tries. Another victory here, which is beginning to feel more and more likely, will make him the first man to win the French Open five times in a row.
There was a lot of expectation around Thiem, especially based on his second round victory over Stanislas Wawrinka at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Thiem is the youngest player inside the ATP World Tour top 100. After reaching the second round of the Australian Open, besides seven other stops on the main tour, he is beginning to carry a bundle of expectations on his shoulders.
Nadal hasn’t gotten off the blocks as well in recent times. He opened the encounter with a couple of forehand errors to fall to 0-30. But Thiem, sensing opportunity, overcooked his hard driving strokes which allowed Nadal back into the game.
There is an easy flow to Thiem’s game that is pleasing to the eye, perhaps easy on his body too. He is able to put a lot of spin and power on his forehand and his one-handed backhand, though far more laboured, is no pushover – as he proved with a crosscourt winner to gain break point.
The first game lasted nine minutes before Nadal held serve, but it foretold a young man’s desire to take the fight to the great champion. At 15-15 in the next game, Thiem showed great touch to pick a half volley off his shoelaces for a drop winner to end a lengthy rally.
But a backhand dumped into the net offered Nadal his first break point. Thiem made it easy for Nadal, sailing a forehand long to gift an early break. With less than half hour on the clock, Nadal had taken control of the set at 4-1.
Thiem made a pair of eager errors in the sixth game and followed them up with a double fault to offer three break points to Nadal. A stunningly brutal forehand winner from Nadal meant that the Spaniard was serving for the set on the half hour mark.
Once Nadal got to set point though, the 20-year-old showed remarkable audacity to plug in three ferocious forehand winners to stall his opponent with a break of serve. Much to the disappointment of the crowd on Chatrier, however, Thiem threw in a double fault at 15-40 in the next game to the end the set.
Seemingly unperturbed, the Austrian struck a mean backhand up the line winner in the third game to earn a break point. But Nadal saved it by drawing Thiem forward with a drop shot, before holding serve for 2-1 in the second set.
The match started slipping away for Thiem when he was broken in the fourth game and Nadal consolidated to take a 4-1 lead, just as it was in the first set. And soon Nadal had a two sets to nothing lead with a little more than an hour of effort.
Thiem raised visions of a fightback when he broke Nadal – the Spaniard dumped a forehand in the net on break point – in the third game. Though he was in trouble immediately on his own serve, the Austrian saved two break points to hold ground and take a 3-1 lead.
But Nadal bounced back in venomous fashion. The Spaniard, perhaps miffed at the adventurous young man across the court refusing to go away, launched a frontal attack to win five games in a row and take the match to progress into the third round.
The 57th-ranked Thiem brought a lot of intent to the court, but lacked a coherent plan to seriously trouble Nadal. Often times, he was attacking from too far back in the court. That left Nadal with ample space to execute his drop shots.
To his credit, Thiem sought to take the battle to Nadal – he had 27 winners to only 16 from the Spaniard. But the Austrian gave away 41 unforced errors to just 19 from Nadal, which seriously hurt his chances of troubling the defending champion.
Nadal will next play Leonardo Mayer, who defeated Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.