Beaten French Open finalist Dominic Thiem hailed Rafael Nadal’s “exceptional” 11th Roland Garros triumph on Sunday, joking that it was easier to watch the great Spaniard on TV as a child.
The 24-year-old Austrian was playing in his first Grand Slam final, and although he pushed Nadal at times, he fell to an ultimately one-sided 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 defeat.
“Physically I enjoyed more watching him on the couch,” smiled Thiem, who was 11 years old when Nadal won his first French Open in 2005.
“When he won here the first four or five times, I was always watching it. Of course it’s really a great thing that I made my way and that I was competing in a final against him.
“It’s a really great thing, honestly, but still I’m disappointed, of course. It was a final. I really wanted to win.
“I gave everything I had, and I’m the loser of today. So at the end, it’s not the best day.”
Thiem is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay in the last two years after wins in Madrid this year and Rome in 2017.
The world number eight is also one of just three men to have defeated the 17-time Grand Slam champion three times on his favoured surface in total, but he had no answer to the 32-year-old’s relentless pressure on Sunday.
“He was playing very well, I think, and there is a reason why he won 11 times here,” Thiem added.
“It’s definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport. For sure, me, I’m confident that this was not my last Grand Slam final, and that’s my biggest goal, to get into the next one and then to do it better than today.
“But if you win a Grand Slam tournament 11 times, one single one, then this is just very exceptional and amazing.
“You need to have, I think, many extraordinary skills and talents and work ethic to achieve that.”
After winning just one point in the first two games, Thiem dragged himself back into the contest, only to throw away the opening set with an erratic 10th game as he was broken to love.
Nadal has never lost a best-of-five-set match on clay when he has won the first set, and every time Thiem has faced the world number one the winner of the first set has gone on to take the match.
But the seventh seed insisted that his hopes weren’t automatically ended before set two.
“It was a bad game, but I did the right plays always, and I just missed some close balls.
“And in general... game-wise it was a good game. It was just terrible misses. And it was, for sure, not the turning point.”