Then, less than 24 hours after that one concluded, Thiem needed to step on court for the fourth consecutive day to try to deal with Nadal and everything that entails. For the final's opening two sets, Thiem was able to hang with the man known as the King of Clay. And then?
"I had a little drop, which is, against most of the players, not that bad," Thiem said, "but he took the chance and stepped right on me." Nadal reeled off 16 of the initial 17 points in the third set on the way to taking 12 of the last 14 games in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Thiem. That gave Nadal his 12th French Open title and 18th Grand Slam trophy overall, while denying Thiem what would have been his first major championship.
There was no doubt for Thiem what played a role. After all, he was trying to do something only three men have in the professional era, which began in 1968: beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at Roland Garros.
"Beating Novak over two days, with all the interruption," said Thiem, a 25-year-old Austrian who was seeded No. 4, "it leaves traces on the body and also on the mind." That, especially, is not an ideal way to face Nadal on the red clay of Paris, where the guy has won 93 of 95 career matches.
Still, Thiem gave it a go over the first 100 minutes, hanging with Nadal on exciting exchanges from the baseline that seemingly wouldn't end, just because both men are so adept at covering the court so well. By match's end, there were 46 points that lasted at least 10 strokes, and Nadal and Thiem both won 23.
Only one of them was able to sustain the high level of focus and stamina for the third and fourth sets, though. "Maybe," acknowledged Thiem's physical trainer, Alex Stober, "he was running out of fuel a little at the end."
During the trophy ceremony, Nadal repeatedly praised his opponent, saying that he expects — and hopes — that Thiem will one day hoist aloft that silver symbol of excellence. So, too, of course, does Thiem himself.
He kept talking about next year. And he shouldn't feel too bad about losing back-to-back finals at Roland Garros to Nadal. Thiem is in good company: Roger Federer (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011) and Djokovic (2012, 2014) also each lost multiple French Open finals to the guy.
"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," Thiem said. "I gave everything I had in these two weeks."
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed.
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