History will be made on Sunday as the ten time champion Rafael Nadal takes on 24 year old Dominic Thiem in the final of the second grand slam of the year at the Roland Garros in Paris. While Nadal is bidding to extend his record to Eleven, Dominic Thiem is bidding to become the first player born in the 1990s to win a grand slam title. Both advanced in straight sets on Friday on court Phillip Chattrier, Thiem beat the surprise package of the tournament Marco Cecchinato of Italy, while Nadal was too strong for the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro.
The seventh seeded Austrian, the only player to have Nadal on the Red Clay this year, saved three points in the second set tie-break to end the fairytale run of the 72nd ranked Italian, 7-5,7-6(10),6-1 in two hours and 17 minutes. Thiem got off to a flying start by breaking serve in the first set, but Cecchinato fought back to level at 4-4 inspite of failing to convert on four break point chances. Thiem broke in the eleventh game and then held his own serve to win the opening set in 46 minutes.
There were no breaks of serve in the second set and Thiem had three chances at 6-3 in the tie-break including two on his own serve. He had one more chance at 8-7 on the Italians serve, while Cecchinato failed to convert his chances at 7-6,9-8 and then 10-9 on his own serve. Thiem took the last three points to clinch the second set in 66 minutes.
From there on the result was never in doubt, but the gallant ideal made Thiem save two break points while serving for the match at 5-1. He hit 37 winners and is now 35-8 for the year, including titles in Buenos Aires and in Lyon, both on clay. It will be his first grand slam final, Thiem lost in the Madrid Master’s series final in 2017 ( loss to Nadal) and 2018 (loss to Zverev)
Not surprisingly his opponent in the final will be the ten time champion from Mallorca, Spain who saved six break points in the opening set before inevitably beating the fifth seeded Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4,6-1,6-2 in the second semi final finishing with 35 winners to just 19 unforced errors. Nadal is now 85-2 in Paris, his only two losses came in the fourth round against Robin Soderling in 2009, and then in 2015 at the hands of Novak Djokovic in the quarter final.
Del Potro made Nadal work hard in his first three service games, and squandered six break point opportunities and paid dearly as the Spaniard joins Roger Federer to reach 11 finals at one Grand slam. Federer won eight of his 11 finals at Wimbledon. Nadal has now won 44 of the last 45 sets on clay and is 110-2 in five set matches on clay. He leads Thiem 6-3 in their head to head, all nine matches on clay. Nadal routed Thiem 6-0,6-2 in Monte Carlo in April, while the Austrian got his revenge three weeks later in Madrid, winning 7-5,6-3.
Despite the loss, Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion will now be ranked fourth, a position he last held in February 2014, while Cecchinato will rise to a career high Top 30 when rankings are announced on Monday.
Meanwhile, the ladies final pits the world number one ranked Simona Halep of Romania against the U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, as both advanced in comprehensive fashion on Thursday. Halep, the Australian Open finalist this year and in Paris in 2014, beat the 2016 champion in Paris, third seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain, 6-1,6-4. The reigning Wimbledon champion also lost the opportunity to dethrone Halep as the world number One in the rankings with the loss.
The second Semi final was a repeat of the U.S. Open final played nine months ago between two Americans. The 10th seeded Sloane Stephens beat her good friend Madison Keys, seeded 13th, 6-4,6-4. Halep has a 5-2 edge in career matches between the two, including four straight matches, and has a 2-0 edge on matches played on clay, including the fourth round of the 2014 French Open. The other win on clay came in Barcelona 2012.
Women’s Final : Simona Halep will be playing with all the burden of expectations and her past baggage in Grandslam fianls. Sloane Stephens will be able to play her game and let the pressure on Halep pile on. One expects Halep will regroup and win her first grandslam and French Open in 3 well contested sets.
Men’s Final: Thiem is facing one of the most herculean tasks in tennis, perhaps all sport. He needs to win 3 sets on court Phillippe Chatrier against the greatest clay court player the sport has seen. Thiem will need the conditions to be damp and heavy – Nadal’s Achilles’ heel.
The Austrian will then have to red line his game and should he see the finish line, be able to hold his nerve and close out the biggest match of his young career. The odds are heavily against the young buck and smart money, so to speak, is on the 10 time French Open champ to take his overall Grandslam count to 17. Nadal in 4 sets.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]