Men’s final: Nadal v. Theim: ‘I know how to play against him’  

FR0M ROLAND GARROS — Rafa Nadal is a pretty big favorite to win Roland Garros once again. He has won it 10 times, and he has never lost in the final, starting in 2005 when the teenager shocked the world. Last year, in 2017, he won it again. He was so locked in and so good.

Last year, in the semis, he blew out
Dominic Thiem. He destroyed him. But now, the 24-year-old is a little bit more mature, he has improved his heavy backhand and his volleys at the net cords. He likes changing the tactics a lot, and he is fairly smart, so maybe, he can unearth Rada. 

Or maybe not. The thing is, the 32-year-old Nadal is brilliant when he is playing. He can be tricky, or he can attach very soon, blasting his forehand. He is very patient with his first serve, and when he manages to get into the net, he can jump up into the air, or he can bend down, grip it his racket, stare at it, and then decide where he could go. Many times, he puts it away. With his return, he stands way in the back, right near the fence, he quickly moves forward when the ball is struck and he pounds it deep. He doesn’t try to immediately hit a winner, he wants to start the points and then eventually, he will explode.
That is why Nadal has won so many clay court tournaments. Dozens and dozens. But eventually, all reat players will retire, too old, too injured, too mentally tired. Pete Sampras did that back in 2002, when he won the US Open for the last time. He had won 14 Grand Slams, but then he woke up one day later and he thought, “I don’t want to play anymore. It is time to rest, and change how I feel, and I will have a new chapter.”
But right now, while Nadal maintains his health — which is very rocly — he will continue to improve his backhand. Ten years ago, his backhand was so-so, it wasn’t going deep, but now he hits it deeper and harder. It is not perfect, and he probably never will be. But that’s because his forehand is gigantic, all the time. Plus, he gets everything.So what about Thiem?  For sure, over the past five years, he has gradually improved, and he loves the clay. He likes to punch it out, and he likes long rallies, when he moves forward inch by inch until he can touch the line. His one-handed backhand is fantastic. He by slices and spins it, by flatting in out and smacking the ball for a winner. His forehand is heavy, and he can move it around.Yes, he has beaten Nadal three times, on clay, but Rafa has won five times, twice at Roland Garros. The Spaniard hasn’t lost a set to Thiem in Paris.      
Can Thiem change it up? He will have to start playing well, because if he loses the first and second set, see-ya. But as he says, there is an opportunity“[Nadal is] a big favorite against everybody. Still, I know how to play against him,” Thiem said. “I have a plan.”Halep battles for Slam

After she lost the first set 6-3, and she was broken, 1-2, Simona Halep blew up quickly. The last time at three finals at the Slams, she went down. But this time, she didn’t panic, she kept running, getting the balls back constantly, pretty deep and hard. She ran and ran, she just kept striking.

“I felt that and I said, ‘It’s not going to happen again, but it’s okay. I have just to play,’ ” Halep said. “And then when I started to win games, I said that last year happened to me [against Jelena Ostapenko in the final], same thing, I was set and a break up and I lost the match. So I said there is a chance to come back and win it. So I believed in that, and my game was more relaxed. I could make more things on court, and that’s why I could win.”

Halep won it all, out-hitting Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-4 6-1. In the fourth game in the third, she and Stephens were at the net, twisting around,  bending down, and finally, Halep went in the air, with her back behind her, and she put it away. That was a tremendous point. After that, she pumped her first, while Stephens put her head down.

‘That was really important, and I think maybe the most important ball in the third set. I remember last year and this year in my mind all match, when, at 3-3 I think in the third set, she hit the net and the ball was going, like, five meters out and came back to my court. So I remember that. I said, if I did this point, so has to be mine this match. I was confident after that.”

It was over. The No. 1 Halep knew that she was going to win. She did, and she is still grinning, her first major. Whether she wins another Slam — and she really could — at least on Saturday, she finally showed that she was spectacular, through and through.


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