PARIS (Reuters) - As the only man to have beaten Rafael Nadal on clay over the past two seasons, Dominic Thiem knows he has the weapons and expertise to topple the 10-times champion in Sunday’s French Open final.
However, the Austrian is wary that a best-of-five-set Grand Slam match represents a different challenge, especially at a tournament where the Spaniard has been beaten only twice in 87 matches.
Thiem beat Nadal in straight sets in Rome 13 months ago and at the Madrid Masters last month, but in their two previous Roland Garros meetings in 2014 and 2017, the seventh-seeded Austrian won a total of 14 games.
“He is a big favourite against everybody. Still, I know how to play against him. I have a plan,” a confident Thiem, who dispatched surprise package Marco Cecchinato 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1 in the semi-finals on Friday, told reporters.
Thiem’s confidence has grown as he reached the final of a major for the first time after falling in the semis in the last two editions of the French Open.
“The most important thing is that the weapons are there and the physical shape and of course, there is also the mental part,” the 24-year-old said.
“I can take some things off (those wins). If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid.”
As confident as he is, Thiem is well aware that it will take a huge effort if he is to join Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic as the only men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.
The world number one not only seems to have an inexhaustible supply of energy to keep on going in a best-of-five-set-match on clay but his topspin forehand is also favoured by the Paris conditions.
“I’m also aware that here it’s tougher. He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid. Best of five is also different story,” said Thiem.
“I think also a good thing is that I faced him already
Thiem also believes that being the underdog on Sunday will allow him to play more freely.
“I’m not the one who has the pressure,” he said.
Nadal, however, has won every one of the 10 finals he has contested here.
Thiem will be keen to emulate Thomas Muster, the only Austrian man to reach, and win, the final at the French Open, back in 1995.
“He’s a role model for every Austrian tennis player. He’s the biggest in our sport in Austria,” he said.
“That’s why, even though I’m a little bit too young for him, he’s still a role model for everyone.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Pritha Sarkar