For the second straight year, Rafael Nadal will take on Dominic Thiem in the 2019 championship final of the French Open at Roland Garros (9 AM ET Sunday). Will the young Austrian be able to breakthrough and claim his first grand slam title? Or will the King of Clay continue to dominate in historic fashion?
Roger Federer said it best. The road to the French Open title runs through one man and one man only, Rafael Nadal.
In 2005, a 19-year-old upstart, who had previously not gotten further than the third round of a grand slam tournament, entered and won the French Open. It had been Nadal’s first-ever appearance in the French Open but the rookie made it look like he was a seasoned vet. Nadal’s career took off from there.
The following year, he reached the finals at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the US Open. He returned to the Wimbledon finals in 2007 and reached a career-best quarterfinals at the Australian Open. By 2008, he found himself in the semis or better at each major, including winning his first Wimbledon. All the while, he was undefeated in Paris, winning the French Open in four consecutive years (2005-08).
It wasn’t until 2009 that he lost his first career match at Roland Garros. It wasn’t a losing streak that lasted long as Nadal went on to win another five consecutive French Open titles. That put him at nine, which passed the record of Max Decugis (8) from the Amateur Era and was three more than Bjorn Borg’s record of six from the Open/Modern Era. Nadal was just 24 when he broke that record. It also passed Federer’s own mark of eight titles at Wmbledon, which had stood as the most by a single player at a single grand slam tournament.
Garnering the nickname, “King of Clay,” Nadal excelled on the red courts better than anyone else had before him, winning an astounding 11 titles and posting a career record (not counting this year), of 86-2, plus one withdraw, at the French Open. It is good enough for a 98 career winning percentage, which is greater than any one tennis player has ever performed on any one surface.
While Nadal has also won titles at each of the other three grand slams, as well as an Olympic gold medal, to complete his career golden slam, the main reason why he has been such a successful player is the French Open. Eleven of his career 17 grand slam titles have come on the red clay of Roland Garros. Unlike the other majors, where Nadal’s performance timeline is a record of 6-8 in finals, he has never once lost a final at the French Open, going a perfect 11-0.
Nadal’s dominance on clay has been remarkable and as a result, everyone from tennis pundits to his competitors have tried to understand just how he’s been able to be so good and just what the formula could possibly be to beat him. It is no secret that Nadal’s game has always been aided by his incredible athleticism and movement, all things that play complimentary to the clay courts. Not to mention the top spin he gets is unlike any other, and on the slower clay, where the ball almost hangs up as opposed to rushes through the air as it does on grass for example, allows him to perfectly craft his shot.
Second Time’s a Charm for Thiem?
While the history of tennis has always seen periods of time where several men have dominated the scene, nothing has been quite like what the sport has played witness to over the last 15 years. Since Nadal’s victory at the French Open in 2005, only four men not named Nadal, Federer or Novak Djokovic, have won majors. To put that simply, 48 of the last 56 majors have been won by just three men, each of which have dominated one individual surface as well as found enough success to be career grand slam winners. When all is said and done, these three men, who have won the last nine majors in a row, will all go down as some of the best to play the sport of all-time.
But Father Time will not lay in wait forever. Though he has seemingly given an endless fountain of youth to the 37 year old Federer, 33 year old Nadal and 32 year old Djokovic, eventually, that next generation will rise. There has already been one seemingly forgotten generation of talented tennis players, all of whom were unlucky enough to play during the age of three all-time greats. With all men now over 30 however, there won’t be another. So it begs the question that tennis fans have been asking for close to five years now, who’s next?
The 25-year-old Thiem, who has been rising in the ranks ever since he reached his first ATP tour final in 2014, could be that guy. Thiem has the ability to beat the top players in the world, and conditions aside, he almost made beating Djokovic, the world #1, seem much easier than it should have. Sure the semifinal for the two went the full five sets but Thiem played Djokovic with a poise and power that few have managed this year, as Djokovic had won the last two majors contested going back to last year’s US Open. It was by far the biggest victory in Thiem’s career, but not the biggest one he could have if he plays pristine tennis on Sunday.
Our Preview’s French Open Tennis Final Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
Last year, Thiem, in his first-ever grand slam final, fell to Nadal in straight sets (4-6, 3-6, 2-6). He couldn’t beat him, but then again few have. Now he might at least have a better chance. That’s not to say that watching back the tape will guarantee anything however as many, including Federer, have had the chance to see how Nadal beat them, only to lose to him once again. Thiem will have the tools, but he’ll also need to play the best match of his life and, because that won’t be enough, hope Nadal is off his game.
The odds aren’t much in Thiem’s favor though, as not only is Nadal going to be more well-rested, but the Spaniard has only dropped one set all tournament and that was back in the round of 32. Since then, he’s breezed through the last three rounds, not spending too much extra time or extra effort on the court. There’s also the fact that Nadal has never lost a French Open final he’s played in.
We said it at the beginning of this tournament. It was short money with the offshore USA online sports betting firms, but it was the smart bet, nonetheless. Rafael Nadal (-500) will win his 12th French Open. Some money can be made on the game spread (-6.0) and the game total (36.0). These are our French Open final predictions 2019 for this preview: