Nadal vs Thiem preview: Can the Prince dethrone the King in the French Open final?

Nadal vs Thiem preview: Can the Prince dethrone the King in French Open final?
Will Dominic Thiem upset Rafael Nadal? (Picture: Getty/Metro)

On Sunday there will be a battle between clay-court royalty as the Prince tries to dethrone the King of Roland Garros.

Young pretender – and perhaps heir to the throne – Dominic Thiem has been dubbed the Prince of Clay and he will get a shot at the undisputed ruler of the Parisian land for more than a decade.

Only two men have stopped Rafael Nadal in the past and they have merely proven to be bumps in the road as the King of Clay lifted aloft the French Open crown jewels on no fewer than 10 occasions.

While many great warriors have tried to end his rule in Paris, few have come close. The slightest war wound is regarded by most as a successful outing on the battlefield.

But Thiem has shown himself to be the biggest threat to Nadals utter dominance on his favoured surface and hes the only player to beat him over the past two years.

Nadal vs Thiem on clay 2017-2018

2018 Madrid QF: Thiem 7-5 6-3 Nadal
2018 Monte-Carlo QF: Nadal 6-0 6-2 Thiem
2017 French Open SF: Nadal 6-3 6-4 6-0 Thiem
2017 Rome QF: Thiem 6-4 6-3 Nadal
2017 Madrid F: Nadal 7-6 6-4 Thiem
2017 Barcelona F: Nadal 6-4 6-1 Thiem

In 51 matches across 2017 and 2018 on the dirt, Nadal has lost twice. Both defeats have been at the hands of Thiem.

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Scalps in Rome and Madrid are impressive but the ultimate test awaits the 24-year-old on the final Sunday of a fascinating two weeks in the French capital.

Nadal has won all 21 matches hes played from the semi-finals and beyond at the French Open. Hes never even been pushed to five sets in those contests.

Thiem vs Cecchinato

Odds (Betfair)

Nadal – 1/4
Thiem – 7/2

Head to head

Nadal 6-3 Thiem

Nadal route to final

R1: 6-4 6-3 7-6 Bolelli
R2: 6-2 6-1 6-1 Pella
R3: 6-3 6-2 6-2 Gasquet
R4: 6-3 6-2 7-6 Marterer
QF: 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 Schwartzman
SF: 6-4 6-1 6-2 Del Potro

Thiem route to final

R1: 6-2 6-4 6-1 Ivashka
R2: 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-4 Tsitsipas
R3: 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2 Berrettini
R4: 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4 Nishikori
QF: 6-4 6-2 6-1 Zverev
SF: 7-5 7-6 6-1 Cecchinato

But Thiem is confident he has the tactical nous to sprint an upset.

Hes a big favourite against everybody, Thiem said after his straight sets win over Marco Cecchinato.

Still, I know how to play against him. I have a plan.

I will try everything that my plan also going to work out a little bit here and not only in Madrid or in Rome.

If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid.

Nadal vs Thiem preview: Can the Prince dethrone the King in French Open final?
Thiem has a plan (Picture: Getty)

But Im also aware that here its tougher. He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure.

The Austrian will be encouraged by the efforts of others in the earlier rounds.

While Nadal was untouchable last year, hes been pushed to tiebreakers by Simone Bolelli and Maximilian Marterer. Plucky Argentine Diego Schwartzman took a set off him.

Even a relatively one-sided semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro saw the fifth seed set up seven break point chances.

Opportunities are there to be had against Nadal and none have arrived with the clay-court pedigree of the world No. 8.

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My feeling is on Sunday I have a very difficult match against a player that is playing great, Nadal said after beating Del Potro. I know I have to play my best if I want to have chances.

Good thing is I played a lot of good matches this clay court season. So Sunday is the day to give my best, is the day to increase even a little bit more the level.

Spain's Rafael Nadal walks on court between points against France's Richard Gasquet during their men's singles third round match on day seven of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMONCHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Nadal has been forced to work hard (Picture: AFP/Getty)

I hope to be ready to do it. Thats the goal.

Importantly, Thiem should be fresh. His defeat to the Spaniard last season in Paris followed an emotionally draining win over Novak Djokovic.

In avoiding the Serb in the semi-finals and avoiding a fully fit Alexander Zverev in the last-eight, Thiem has dodged a potentially nightmarish run. There is no reason he shouldnt be physically ready to go toe-to-toe with the top seed.

Mentally is another question. How will he cope in his first Grand Slam final? Will he keep his cool if things dont go his way? Is he able to last the course if he can take Nadal the distance?

The 32-year-old Spaniard has been there and done it so many times – this is nothing new. Hell be fully aware of the threat Thiem poses but that should only leave him sharper from the off.

We should expect a good match. Thiem may well even take a set. But Nadal remains a near-unmovable force at Roland Garros and its hard to look past him claiming title No. 11.

Prediction: Nadal in 4

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