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Spain’s Rafael Nadal plays a shot against Switzerland’s Roger Federer during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Spain’s Rafael Nadal plays a shot against Switzerland’s Roger Federer during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)|Associated Press
Tennis

Tennis Sunday: Abrams picks the French Open men’s final, Rafa Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem, with Nadal going for his 12th title at Roland Garros

The match starts Sunday at 9 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

FRENCH OPEN
Stade Roland Garros
Paris, France
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Men’s Finals

Rafa Nadal over Dominic Thiem
Some things never change. When Roger Federer succumbed to his greatest rival, Rafa Nadal in Friday’s semifinals, which took place during blustery, cold, and damp conditions, being the gracious champion that he is, Federer congratulated Nadal and talked about how difficult the conditions were to play in. He even exclaimed that he was just trying not to look foolish out there with the high and gusting wind.

When Novak Djokovic was faced with the same weather, he pouted, tried to get his match postponed, and generally acted like a petulant child would when not given some candy. When he finally got his way and got to play the final 2 ½ sets of his suspended match with Dominic Thiem on a different day with different conditions, Nole continued to complain, even saying out loud in a really sarcastic comment about the tournament directors, “. . . I guess they know more than I do.” One thing’s for sure, cream always rises, class always is class, and you can’t take the bad sport out of the bad sportsman. Somehow Nole is only gracious in victory.

So now we have a rematch of last year’s French Open finals between the two top clay court tennis players in the world, Rafael Nadal, looking for his unprecedented 12th title at Stade Roland Garros, and Dominick Thiem, looking to take home his first Grand Slam title as the 4th ranked player in the world. Should Nadal triumph, that would give him double the amount of French Open crowns won by his nearest challenger, Bjorn Borg. For those who may remember Borg, when he won his sixth, most historians and experts predicted that his feat would never be equaled.

Thiem seems to be the heir apparent to the Big Three as they age into retirement, and he can make the statement that his time is now should he win this title. With Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Sascha Zverev ready to assume the top spots, the men’s game is ready for the transition. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think that’s going to happen just yet. Nadal, who was playing some of the worst clay court tennis that I can remember from him coming into this tournament, has completely changed that dynamic by not dropping a single set going into the finals here in Paris, dismissing Roger Federer easily in straight sets in the semis. He is playing his best tennis of the year, by far, and should be able to dictate play in his unusual, iconoclastic style of play. Thiem possesses excellent ground strokes and will challenge Rafa as much as possible, but he doesn’t possess anywhere near the all-court game needed to conquer the Champion. Thiem possesses a terrific drop shot, but he stays as far away from the net as possible, and if he comes in more than twenty times in this match, I’d be surprised. That means, if it’s close and the match lasts five sets, Thiem will only venture forward about four times a set. That’s not enough to break up Rafa’s rhythm, or to take home easy winners. I’m afraid to say, for the 25-year-old Austrian, that tomorrow is a latter day, the sun will come up tomorrow, and the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.