(CNN) — Rafael Nadal described his performance at the French Open last year, when he didn’t surrender a set, as “perfect.”
The world No. 1 wasn’t as invincible this year but he was still plenty good enough at the grand slam where he is virtually unbeatable.
Nadal won a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros and 17th major overall Sunday when he defeated his spirited challenger, Dominic Thiem, 6-4 6-3 6-2 in Paris. When a return went long on a fifth match point, Nadal raised his arms in joy.
He wept when holding the trophy minutes later.
The score may have looked rather routine but there was some drama in the third set when Nadal called for the trainer at 2-1, 30-0. He removed the tape from his left wrist and seemed to take a tablet. The trainer came back a few moments later, again to attend to the left forearm.
When the trainer visited Nadal in his quarterfinal for a similar issue, Nadal said it was simply to prevent sweat from traveling to his hand.
Still, Nadal was able to complete the job on court Philippe-Chatrier.
More history made
No stranger to rewriting the record books along with his friendly rival, Roger Federer, here is another feat for the Spaniard: He joined Margaret Court in becoming the only tennis players in history to win the same grand slam 11 times. Court claimed the last of her 11 at the Australian Open in 1973.
Thiem was considered the stiffest test for Nadal at the French Open and understandably so.
The Austrian is one of just three players to down Nadal on clay at least three times. The world No. 8, too, was the last man to overcome Nadal on clay, last month in Madrid.
But that’s the best-of-three sets and in different, faster conditions.
Over the best-of-five sets on clay, Nadal improved to 111-2 — it is a figure almost as imposing as the nearby Eiffel Tower — his lone reverses coming against Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015 at the French Open.
The Austrian — competing in his first grand slam final after a pair of semifinal showings in Paris — needed to win the first set to have any realistic opportunity of ending Nadal’s reign.
Why? Nadal was 95-0 when capturing the opener on clay in the best of five format.
Slow starts have plagued Nadal in several of his matches this fortnight, most notably against 11th-Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. He lost the first set, then turned things around after a rain delay.
But against Thiem, there was nothing wrong with Nadal’s start. He won the first six points and broke for 2-0.
His lead was reminiscent of their semifinal at the French Open last year, when Nadal also held the early advantage.
Unlike last year — when those first few games realistically settled things — Thiem bounced back, breaking straight away.
The problem for the 24-year-old was that his serve wasn’t co-operating. Serving at less than 50%, Nadal got plenty of looks at second serves.
Thiem dug in — especially in the roughly 13-minute sixth game — but he crumbled attempting to stay in the set, making four unforced errors.
In a 10-minute second game of the second set, Thiem suffered more trauma. He dropped serve on a fifth break chance.
Thiem however was able to hold serve regularly and had a chance to get back on serve but his break chance at 2-4 evaporated when Nadal hit a sublime drop shot, then passing shot.
His lone opportunity of the set indeed vanished.
Thiem courageously saved three break points to start the third, yet dropped serve in his next service game.
Seemingly cruising to victory, that’s when Nadal called for the trainer. He removed the tape from his left wrist — the Mallorcan suffered a wrist injury that ruled him out in the first week of the 2016 edition — and the trainer came out again at 3-2. Nadal appeared to take more tablets.
Yet he just wouldn’t be denied.
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