Thiem the best man to challenge Nadal – Kuerten
- Dominic Thiem must convince himself he is capable of dethroning Rafael Nadal at the French Open, says Gustavo Kuerten.
If there is any man that can beat Rafael Nadal on the hallowed clay of Roland Garros, it is Dominic Thiem.
The pair will take to Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday to contest the French Open final for the second successive year.
Nadal blew fellow clay-court specialist Thiem away in Paris last year. A resounding 6-4 6-3 6-2 triumph saw the Spaniard sail to an incredible 11th title in the French capital.
Thiem will hope to avenge that loss and stop the 'King of Clay' becoming the first player to win the same grand slam on 12 separate occasions.
Three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten believes the world number four certainly has the quality to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires, though he does not anticipate Nadal – who ended Roger Federer's first Roland Garros appearance since 2015 with a dominant straight-sets victory in the semis – being dethroned just yet.
 @RafaelNadal v  @ThiemDomi Stats— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) June 8, 2019
Nadal 8-4 H2H
Nadal 7-4 Clay (Thiem: 2nd-Most Wins of All Players)
Nadal 4-0 Grand Slams
Nadal 3-0 @RolandGarros (9-0 Sets)
Nadal 3-0 Finals (7-0 Sets)
Last H2H: Thiem 64 64 @BcnOpenBS SF
Last Slam H2H: Nadal 06 64 75 67 76 @USOpen QF #RG19
"Dominic is already there for a couple of years and I guess he's gonna have it," Kuerten told Omnisport in Paris when asked if Thiem could go all the way at Roland Garros.
"This first step, it's the crucial one, it's the toughest part, but he's gonna get there. He's more than well deserved to win the French Open title. Without Rafa he would have it.
"So I think he's the guy already that if we need to choose one extra French Open champion, [it] would be Dominic.
"And it will happen, but I guess it's still a little bit away – [though] it can happen on Sunday.
"I'm sure we all need to think Rafa is the favourite and Dominic needs to think … the other way around. [People that play against Nadal] will have to convince themselves, be 100 per cent sure that they are able to face him in battle and challenge him."
Thiem has won four of his 11 meetings with Nadal on clay. It may not sound like a lot, but it is the second most of all players to go toe to toe with the 17-time major champion in his red dominion.
The most recent of the 25-year-old's victories over Nadal came in the semi-finals of April's Barcelona Open. Thiem triumphed 6-4 6-4 to reach the showpiece, in which he beat Daniil Medvedev to claim his second title of the year having defeated Federer at Indian Wells.
Both of those successes came after Nicolas Massu, the former top-10 player from Chile who won gold in the singles and doubles at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, joined his coaching team.
Thiem credited Massu with helping him get back in shape after tasting glory at Indian Wells and the Austrian needed to draw on all of his energy reserves to overcome world number one Novak Djokovic 6-2 3-6 7-5 5-7 7-5 in a semi-final that finished within 24 hours of the scheduled start time of the final at Roland Garros.
Lousy weather in Paris means Thiem will finish the competition having played on four straight days, which undoubtedly hands a significant advantage to Nadal. Massu sought to have the final pushed back to Monday in order to give his player a better chance at challenging but was met with an assertive no.
Nadal's losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid led to suggestions he was more vulnerable than ever on clay. Those thoughts were tempered by his success at the Internazionali d'Italia and he heads into this year's French Open final with the odds stacked firmly in his favour, though there is arguably no one better to try to put him through his paces.