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Rafa makes it a dozen


Rafa becomes the first player to win the same Grand Slam title 12 times

CELEBRATION: Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after winning the mens final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Dominic Thiem of Austria at Roland Garros in Paris yesterday. Picture: EPA-EFE Yoan Valat

Defying the years and one of the most fierce onslaughts he has ever faced at Roland Garros, Rafa Nadal won his 12th French Open crown yesterday, leaving Dominic Thiem crushed and a packed Parisian stadium shaking their heads in wonder.

The first set had beeSPT * one for the ages, the second ran it close, but after three hours and one solitary minute all that mattered was that Nadal was once again in familiar pose, flat on his back in the clay, a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 winner to clinch his 18th Grand Slam triumph in total.

For much of this final, rarely, if ever, has any opponent played so well against Nadal on this Philippe Chatrier centre court.

Rarely, if ever, has the best of the young guns Thiem struck the ball so firmly, or played with such purpose and aggression.

But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. Not even before Thiem ultimately ran out of steam.

The 33-year-old Nadal, who becomes the first player to win the same Grand Slam title 12 times, going past Margaret Court’s 11 Australian Opens, now sits just two major titles behind his great foe and men’s Grand Slam title record holder, 37-year-old Roger Federer.

“It’s incredible. I can’t explain the feeling,” Nadal told the crowd.

“For me it was a dream to play here in 2005, and I could not imagine I would be back here in 2019. It’s a very special moment for me.

“I want to say congratulations to Dominic. I feel sorry – he deserves it. He has absolute intensity and passion for this sport. I wish him all the best for the future.”

Physically, Thiem had looked strong and resolute. But who can say what mental toll his rain-delayed semi-final victory over world No 1 Novak Djokovic had taken.

The Austrian had had to play on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and also yesterday while Nadal had had Saturday off, having dispatched Federer on Friday before the rain set in.

Certainly it would have taken a monumental effort to remain mentally positive after playing an opening set as he did, and coming out of it empty-handed.