It speaks volumes for the world number four Austrian that Thiem came out for the second set in the same fashion – throwing absolutely everything imaginable at his opponent.

Games passed with no break points in sight, and the tension ratcheted ever higher, until the 12th game of the set when it snapped. Nadal rifled a two-fisted backhand just long to hand the levelling set to Thiem.

The French crowd erupted. Thiem clenched his fist. Nadal strode to the sidelines.

Dominic Thiem plays a return shot against Rafael Nadal in the final of the 2019 French Open.

 

But within a flash Nadal had the upper hand again, winning 16 of the next 17 points to lead 4-0 before Thiem could even register any objection. A blink later the set was over, 6-1.

If Thiem had muttered under his breath he’d have been forgiven. So much effort to claw his way back, so little to show for it now.

Few people on the planet can hit a backhand like Thiem, even once. To do it time after time after time is boggling, but that is what it would take to unseat Nadal.

Still the Spaniard rolled on, soaking up Thiem’s best shots, and the cliche beloved of numerous science fiction movies and TV series seemed appropriate: “Resistance is futile”.

So it proved until Thiem’s final ball drifted long and Nadal was again flat on his back in that red clay, adopting the pose that will adorn back pages and websites worldwide.

By this stage, Thiem, too, could only look on in admiration.

“I love this tournament with all my heart, I love you people with all my heart,” he told the crowd.

“Of course I am very sad to lose,” he added, before turning to Nadal. “You are such a legend in our sport we can be really happy you are playing. I will try next year again for sure.”

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