World No. 2 Rafael Nadal became the first player in tennis history to win a single Grand Slam event 12 times on Sunday, defeating Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, in a rematch of the 2018 French Open final. With his 18th major title, Nadal—who improved his staggering record at the clay-court major to 93-2—now stands just two Slams away from Roger Federer’s record total of 20.
“I feel very lucky about all the things that are happening to me. And if, at the end of my career, I am able to win a couple of more Grand Slams and be closer to Roger, it will be unbelievable,” said Nadal.
The 33-year-old joined Federer, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in winning a fourth major title after turning 30. Sunday’s victory marked Nadal’s 59th clay-court title and 950th tour-level win. Nadal is now a combined 24-0 in the final two rounds of Roland Garros. He is 9-4 against Thiem, and he extended his spotless record over the Austrian in majors to 5-0, prevailing for the third straight year in Paris. His 12th Roland Garros crown surpassed Margaret Court’s previous record of 11 Australian Open titles.
Nadal, winner of the past three French Open titles, also extended the streak of major trophies won by players aged 30 or older to 11. The last player under 30 to win a Grand Slam title was Andy Murray at 2016 Wimbledon, when the Brit was 29. The Big 3—Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic—have captured the past 10 major titles, dating back to Stan Wawrinka’s triumph over Djokovic in the 2016 US Open final. After losing in the semifinals of Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, Nadal has since won two titles in a row, adding to his Rome triumph.
“I played better in Madrid, and I played much better in Rome, and here I played a great event,” assessed Nadal. “These small things that I have been improving every single day and doing with the right attitude, doing with the right passion, that’s the only way for me to be back where I am today.”
Thiem was the first Austrian to contest two Grand Slam singles finals. He was bidding to become just the second player from his country to raise a major singles trophy, after 1995 French Open champion Thomas Muster. The 25-year-old was aiming to win successive matches against Nadal for the first time, having beaten the left-hander on his way to April’s Barcelona crown.
Taking the court for the fourth consecutive day, Thiem held his ground early against his well-rested opponent. He stayed with Nadal on extended rallies, generating tremendous pace on his inside-out forehand to earn the first break of the match. Nadal made quick adjustments, pushing Thiem way behind the baseline with deeper, heavier groundstrokes to get back on serve at 3-3. The two then shared several ruthless exchanges in an 11-minute game. Nadal battled through the test and would surge to win eight of the final 10 points, as his punishing game took a toll on Thiem.
The fourth seed did well to reset in the second set, staying in front with aggressive, diverse serving and flattening out his backhand to shorten points. Nadal was even more protective on serve, winning 20 of 21 points to reach 5-5. But when serving to force a tiebreaker, three unforced errors put Nadal in a 15-40 hole, and Thiem pounced to clinch his first set in 11 played against the Spaniard at Roland Garros.
A short set break was all Nadal needed to restart his engine; he won the first 11 points to begin the third set, and stepped on the gas to put himself firmly in front with flawless play, taking all 12 points on serve. Unforced errors crept in for Thiem, unable to sustain the earlier level he exhibited against his adversary who came out ready to retaliate. In the fourth set, Nadal found early resistance in his first two service games, facing three break points, but he dashed Thiem’s hopes of staging a comeback to sprint ahead for victory in three hours.
“I played very good the first two sets, and then I had a little drop, which against most of the players is not that bad, but he took the chance and stepped right on me,” said Thiem. “That’s it. I can only congratulate him on how amazing he performed today.
“Even though I didn’t win the tournament, still, two finals in a row, it’s nice. I think that I developed my game. I was also closer than last year in the final. I have the feeling, especially in the first two sets. So I’m on the right way. And I failed today, but my goal and my dream is still to win this tournament or to win a Grand Slam tournament. I will try my best next year again.”