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The King of Clay is here to stay

MANILA, Philippines- It was supposed to be a classic Roland Garros semifinal.

The King of Clay going up against the challenger Prince: a grand story line feasted upon social media. 

Rafael Nadal, 31, the best player to ever grace the clay courts, was gunning for La Decima in Paris- his 10th overall French Open championship. The 23-year-old Dominic Thiem, up and coming with a great forehand and killer serve, looked to wear the crown Nadal had worn in years past.

For a while, it seemed like Thiem’s time has finally come. He had a great playing year after all, especially on clay, and he even beat the Spaniard last May to win the Rome Masters. 

For people who have been following his journey, Thiem’s straight-set thumping of reigning French Open champion Novak Djokovic in the quarters wasn’t a total shocker. The sixth seed seemed ready to break that ‘Tennis Big Four’, and looked as if he was en route to his first ever Grand Slam. 

Until Nadal happened.

The first few games in the opening set of the semifinal clash seemed to indicate it could well be anybody’s game. Both Nadal and Thiem exchanged breaks in service to start the match.

Nadal stayed dominant all through out and stopped whatever run the young Austrian attempted to spark. One long forehand after another, Thiem could only respond with heavy breaths in between lost points, as if trying to shake off some nerves. 34 unforced errors cost him enough, especially being up against the ultimate champion of clay, who dropped only two matches in his entire French Open career (against Robin Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic in 2015). 

Ultimately, it was Nadal’s experience and composure that stood out in the end. 

Ending a streak

Prior to the historic crowning, Nadal breezed through the tournament without dropping a set. The championship game on Sunday, June 11 also meant an end of a streak. 

The formerly 4th seed had been undefeated in the French Open Finals, while Stan Wawrinka had won every Grand Slam Final he has participated in to that point. 

But it was the Swiss’ run that fell apart. 

The now world number 2 Nadal officially made it a 16-3 win-loss card against Wawrinka, ruthlessly handing the latter a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 beating at the Philippe-Chatrier court in the French capital. 

The King of Clay previously recorded his historic 10's in Monte Carlo and Barcelona but this time around, he accomplished La Decima on the court that has embraced him from day one- and it was the sweetest victory of them all.

“The feeling that I have here is impossible to describe,” said Nadal as he grabbed his 10th French Open trophy. 

“The most important event in my career, no doubt. A win here is something I cannot describe.”

The lopsided victory likewise equates to the Spaniard’s 15th Grand Slam, moving him past Pete Sampras for the second most titles overall, and 3 behind leader Roger Federer. 

Here to stay 

The emergence of young talents like the newly-crowned women’s champ, 20-year-old and former Wimbledon Juniors titlist Jelena Ostapenko, among others, is indeed a thrill to watch. But we’re also lucky enough to witness history and appreciate the past decade’s tennis greats Nadal as well as Federer, who opened the season with yet another sweet win at the Australian Open

Thiem will be carrying that Roland Garros trophy in the near future, and he might very well be the rightful successor of the celebrated clay-great.

But the tennis world is not ready to let go of Nadal just yet, and that’s okay. 

The future will have to wait just a little bit longer. –