What more can we say when, in fifteen years, all the pages have already been blackened? On Sunday, June 9, Rafael Nadal beat Austria's Dominic Thiem for the second year in a row (6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1) and won his twelfth Roland Garros, at age 33. . The double of the Swede Björn Borg, long holder of a record that was thought unattainable. His eighteenth Grand Slam, two lengths of Roger Federer.
In the end, it is perhaps his "best enemy" that best sums up the limits pushed back by the Spaniard. "It was amazing to see Rafa again on earth. I do not know if you imagine the level he has reached (on the surface)it's just amazing. Nobody has a game that is close to his. I do not even see who I can train with to prepare for him. That's what I said to myself during the match, said the Swiss after being floored by the Spaniard a 6e once on the clay of Paris during a semi-final taste vintage.
"Rafa started to walk on me"
Sunday, however, we found his right-handed clone for two sets. Like him, Dominic Thiem turned all the bullets furiously peppered to the body. Like him, the Austrian suffocated him with blocks of forehands. Like him, he combined heaviness and power. The two men gave a stunning start to the final: for seven games and forty-four minutes, Nadal discovered what it was to play against Nadal.
But the Majorcan found in extremis the breach to grab the first run. "It takes 90 hours to win a point, it goes beyond the joke, seriously," plagued the Austrian, looking at his clan. The world No. 4 had reasons to be frustrated: he played the tennis of his life and yet that was not enough. Last year, he probably would not have returned. But he went back to the fight: since it did not pay in the baseline, he redoubled aggressiveness. His determination finally paid, he returned to a set everywhere (7-5).
The master of the place had just been stung in his pride. "From there, Rafa started to walk on me"summed up his victim. This is the Mallorcan ritual: her prey pulls her head out of the water, she thinks she has put the animal on her knees and immediately, the Spaniard rushes to her throat. Thiem could not hold the intensity he had displayed for two sets: he imploded physically and mentally – no doubt he also paid his riot of energy to beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, in five sets and two days. A last return too long and the Spaniard was crumbling full length (6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1).
"It has improved again since last year"
The Austrian knew he was tackling for the second year in a row "One of the greatest challenges in the history of sport". Last year he had not existed, swept 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. This time, he touched his dream for a little less than two hours. "He has improved again since last year, he has further developed his game", he could not but notice.
Since the beginning of the season, the Spaniard plays a tennis ultra-aggressive, thrifty strikes. To those who, less and less numerous over the years, persist in saying that he has "no hand", Nadal has responded these days by putting great wrist shots to penetrate Federer to the net. and deposit jewels of amortization facing Thiem. The teenage boy, who was riding like a bull, plays the pragmatists today. Facing the Swiss and on a court swept by gusts transformed into " Sandbox "he did not try to play long exchanges, he played to win the points. His forehand is sometimes a little more hesitant than at the time of the first coronations, but he built a backhanded cross, making some say that he now has "two straight strokes".
The Spaniard comes back from a distance. A knee injury at Indian Wells in March ruined his onset of the season. Nadal was undermined as rarely in the past: "Mentally I was deep in the hole because of all these repeated injuries," he said Sunday after his victory. In Monte Carlo, he was the shadow of himself in the semifinal against the Italian Fabio Fognini, future winner of the tournament. His "Worse match on clay in fourteen years", He says. The week after, his first tour in Barcelona was a "Disaster" despite the victory.
"I'm not eternal"
"When I got back to the hotel that day, I thought about what was going on. One of the options was to take a break and let my body rest. The other was to drastically change my attitude and mentality. " He chose the second. Semi-final in Madrid, then final in Rome, the Majorcan phoenix resurrected just in time for the Parisian rendez-vous.
How did he get up? "The love of the game and the competition, he was still telling Sunday. All the wounds I have gone through probably give me that extra bit of passion, because I know I'm not eternal. I'm just trying to stay positive and invested. That's what brought me where I am today. "
That is to say in another dimension. Never in the history of tennis has a player counted so many titles in a single Grand Slam tournament. Even if the Spaniard plays false modesty when it comes to recognizing him. "I consider myself a normal person. If I did it, I'm sure someone else can do it. "
So no question for him to dwell on records: "The day you find that incredible is the sign that you have to do something else, he said Friday after qualifying for the final. Tennis does not give you time to be happy when you win and sad when you lose: the circuit continues, you always have a tournament to play behind. When I stop playing tennis, I will enjoy my free time fully, every day. " Sunday, the Spaniard has once again rejected the planned obsolescence.