Nadal eyes 11th French Open title as clock ticks

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PARIS, June 9, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Rafael Nadal admits that his desire to
clinch an 11th French Open title on Sunday is fired by his growing
realisation that the end of his career may not be too far away.

The 32-year-old Spaniard, with 16 majors to his name, will play his 24th
Grand Slam final at Roland Garros against Dominic Thiem who is in his first.

Victory on Sunday will give Nadal an 11th title in Paris and equal
Margaret Court’s all-time record for wins at the same Slam event — in her
case, the Australian Open from 1960 and 1973

Nadal still trails great rival Roger Federer by four major titles although
the Swiss star is more than four years older.

“For me, the motivation to play here always is high, high as possible,”
said Nadal after breezing past Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in
Friday’s semi-finals in what was his 85th win in Paris against just two
defeats.

“But for me, I believe that there are limited chances in your career.

“I have lost a lot of opportunities through injuries, and I know the years
are going quick. So there is not 10 more chances to keep playing here.”

The statistics illustrate Nadal’s concerns — he has missed at least eight
Slam tournaments in his career through a legacy of wrist and knee problems.

Such is his motivation to win his 17th Grand Slam on Sunday, that the task
facing Austrian 24-year-old Thiem was described as “almost impossible” by Del
Potro.

The Argentine believes that Nadal is playing better than he has for years.

“It is almost impossible to beat Rafa,” said Del Potro who had his chances
in the semi-final but failed to convert any of his seven break points before
his challenge petered out into weary hopelessness.

Nadal raced away with 14 of the last 17 games.

“He’s too strong. He’s improving his backhand a lot. That’s why he’s the
No. 1 and beating all the guys.

– ‘He is fresh, healthy. Everything is perfect’ –

“He looks fresh. He is healthy. And the strength that he has and the
mentality, everything is perfect, works perfect for him playing on clay.”

There have, however, appeared to be one or two chinks in his armour at
Roland Garros this year.

On Friday, del Potro was by far the better player in the first set while,
in the quarter-finals, Diego Schwartzman won the first set of his clash with
Nadal.

It was the first time in three years that Nadal had dropped a set in
Paris.

“You can win a set, but not a match against Rafa,” said Del Potro keen not
to over-egg any hint of weakness in Nadal’s game.

At least Thiem has in the past found the key to unravelling the Nadal clay
court enigma.

He is the only man to beat the world number one on clay in the last two
years — in Madrid this spring and in Rome last year.

In Madrid, Thiem thrived in the quicker, higher altitude conditions to win
their quarter-final in straight sets.

But that was only after Nadal had allowed him just two games in a last-
eight mauling in Monte Carlo.

In Madrid, Thiem said the key was to be positive against Nadal.

“If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in
Madrid. But I’m also aware that here it’s tougher,” said Thiem, the first
Austrian in a major final since Thomas Muster won in Paris in 1995.

“He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure. Best of five
is also a different story.”

“But I have a plan.”

Nadal and Thiem have met nine times — all of them on clay.

Thiem also defeated his rival in Buenos Aires in 2016, joining Novak
Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio as the only men to have beaten Nadal three times
each on clay.

However, Nadal has won both their clashes at Roland Garros — in 2014 and
in last year’s semi-finals by a comfortable 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 margin.

“I’m facing Rafa so I’m not the one who has the pressure,” said Thiem.

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