Nadal faces Thiem for 12th Roland Garros title

Author: AFP
Dominance: Rafael Nadal has never lost a French Open final

Rafael Nadal admits winning a 12th Roland Garros title and 18th major would once have seemed liked an "incredible" dream in a career so often at the mercy of a succession of morale-sapping injuries.

However, Nadal, the second seed, knows he cannot under-estimate Austria's Dominic Thiem when they meet again in the Roland Garros final on Sunday.

Thiem has four wins on clay over the 33-year-old Spaniard – only Novak Djokovic has more.

The 25-year-old arrives in the final having shocked world No 1 Djokovic in a five-set semifinal on Saturday.

"Yes, it's incredible to be here again to be honest," said Nadal, who has never lost a Roland Garros final and boasts a 92-2 record at the tournament since his 2005 debut.

Nadal has hardly broken sweat at the French Open this year, making the final for the loss of just one set, against David Goffin in the third round.

Against Roger Federer in the semifinals, he conceded just five games, handing the Swiss his worst Slam loss in 11 years.

"There is nobody who even plays remotely close to Rafa," admitted Federer.

'ULTIMATE CHALLENGE'

Victory on Sunday will move Nadal on to 18 majors, just two behind Federer on the all-time list.

He is also the best part of five years younger than his old rival.

His battles with knee and wrist problems have seen him miss eight Grand Slam tournaments.

Underdog: Nicholas Thiem has enjoyed a remarkable ran in Paris

The world No 2 allowed Thiem just nine games when they met in the 2018 final in Paris.

However, the Austrian won their most recent meeting on clay in the semifinals in Barcelona in April in straight sets.

Nadal also needed five sets to see off Thiem in the quarterfinals at the US Open last year.

He leads their head-to-head 8-4.

Despite having to play four days in succession, Thiem said he was happy to come back out again on Sunday.

His coach Nicolas Massu, however, had said he asked the tournament referee if the final could be shifted back 24 hours.

"I think it's fine. I mean, it's not the first time that that happens in tennis, and it's not going to be the last time. That's our sport," said Thiem.

Thiem, bidding to become just Austria's second Roland Garros men's champion after Thomas Muster in 1995, describes facing Nadal in Paris as "the ultimate challenge".

"I played a really good match against him in Barcelona. It was six weeks ago. So of course I try to do similar even though it's way tougher to play him here," he said.

Despite playing over four hours over two days to defeat Djokovic for just the third time in 10 meetings, Thiem has only spent two more hours on court than Nadal getting to the final.

"I'm feeling fine. I'm full of adrenaline still from today's match, and also I will have that tomorrow," he added.

"So I'm not going to be tired. It's all going to come after the tournament. So I'm ready to leave all or everything what I have out on the court tomorrow."