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Will Dominic Thiem dominate Rafael Nadal on clay in French Open final?
Thiem has won titles in Indian Wells and Barcelona. Will he land his first Grand Slam at Roland Garros?
Last Updated: 08/06/19 5:56pm
Can Dominic Thiem take over the mantle of 'King of Clay' from Rafael Nadal following his success on the red stuff this year?
The 6ft 1in right-handed Austrian has always had the game to do well on the surface with a booming backhand, stamina, graceful movement and aggressive play from the baseline.
But he has now added variety, which has enabled him to join the elite in the men's game.
To prove a point, he conquered Nadal in the Barcelona Open semi-finals to become the first player other than Novak Djokovic to defeat the Spaniard on clay four times before capping an impressive week by crushing Daniil Medvedev 6-4 6-0 to win the title.
Thiem had already won the biggest title of his career when he beat Roger Federer to walk away with the Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells earlier this year and, after landing the ninth clay-court title of his career, his 13th overall, the stars appear to be aligning for the fourth seed.
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He takes on 33-year-old Nadal in a repeat of last year's Roland Garros final but the Austrian will be feeling far more confident he can give the Spaniard a run for his money after ending Novak Djokovic's 26-match winning streak at Grand Slams.
"All the time, if someone reaches the finals here, it's against Rafa," Thiem said with a laugh after his five-set victory over the world No 1.
Tennis is very much in Thiem's family - his father Wolfgang, and mother Karin are both tennis coaches, while his brother, Moritz, also plays the game.
He is Austria's biggest tennis star since Thomas Muster, and now the 25-year-old is playing a free-flowing game under the tutelage of Olympic gold medallist Nicolas Massu.
"There are many things he can bring to my game," Thiem told the official ATP Tour website. "He preferred playing on clay, but his biggest success came on a fast hard court at the (2004 Athens) Olympics. He knows what it means to feel at home on clay, but transfer good results to a hard court. That's one of the things we expect from the relationship."
Did you know...
Thiem has been ranked in Top 10 each week since 6 June, 2016 which is the second-longest active streak (Nadal since 25 April, 2005).
Thiem had previously worked with Gunter Bresnik since a young age, so Bresnik's decision to step back has been key in allowing him to make the step up, with a fresh outlook under Massu.
This was showcased when he produced a stunning performance to defeat Federer at Indian Wells and then described his recent victory over tournament favourite and 11-time champion Nadal at The Real Club de Tenis as "special".
"I'm always super proud if I beat him, because he's the best player ever on this surface, and it's always very special to beat him here on clay," Thiem said.
Nadal's loss to Thiem in Barcelona was one he was prepared to learn from before heading to Roland Garros. That's a warning Thiem will now heed ahead of their latest showdown, especially with the Spaniard back to his awe-inspiring best at the tournament he loves most.
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