Former world No 1 Mats Wilander believes Rafael Nadal could still get better on a clay court, despite claiming a remarkable 12th French Open title by beating Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s final in Paris.
Nadal’s mastery of the red clay has put him in a league of his own on the surface for more than a decade, yet Eurosport analyst Wilander suggests there could still be more to come from the Spaniard.
“Rafa didn’t even have the perfect clay court season which is scary,” stated Wilander. “The way he hit his backhand in the final tells me he’s still working at his game and developing another way of playing.
“I thought after the second set maybe Rafa’s feeling a little tired, so he just started stepping in and taking his backhand early which surprised Dominic a little bit. The match was over from that point.
“The first two sets against Thiem were insane. It lived up to expectations which, to me, were by far the best two sets of the men’s tournament. It was crucial for Thiem to get a good start. After the second set I thought the momentum was with Thiem and somehow Nadal just grabbed it out of his hands.
“Maybe the bathroom break helped but there was a big difference in the third set. I think Thiem ran out of steam in the third set, he just relaxed a little bit and lost his intensity. Maybe he was just happy to have won a set in a Grand Slam final and he lost the creativity that he had in the first two sets.”
Wilander’s fellow Eurosport analyst John McEnroe suggested he was surprised by Nadal’s tactics in the final, as he suspected the King of Clay might shake uphill game to combat the threat of Thiem.
“I actually thought Rafa would go back to what he used to do earlier in his career and play it safer,” stated former Wimbledon champion McEnroe.
“Only because Dominic had been so much the last few days and it’s the fourth day in a row he’s played, but the fact that Nadal has that backhand in his back pocket, I’ve always wondered when he hits his backhand so good it’s a great shot.
“We are not talking about an average shot here and he’s ripping in cross court. He was moving so amazingly, forward and cutting balls off and making points easier.”
Meanwhile, Wilander went on to suggest Thiem has what it takes to win a major, despite losing in the final of the French Open for the last two years to Nadal.
“I think he’s closer in his mind to Federer, Nadal and Djokovic than anyone else and I think he’s the one that is going win Roland-Garros when Nadal is finished,” he added.
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