Rafael Nadal speaks out on catching Roger Federer's Grand Slam haul

  • Rafael Nadal speaks out on catching Roger Federer's Grand Slam haul

Rafael Nadal speaks out on catching Roger Federer's Grand Slam haul

But Nadal roared into the 2017 Australian Open final, losing to Federer, then captured his record 10th French Open crown in June previous year, setting the stage for another title run in the Flushing Meadows fortnight at the US Open in September.

His picking at the rear of his shorts and mopping of his brow, aligned with his obsessive devotion to lining up his water bottles, are parts of the Nadal DNA.

Just like that, Nadal was off on a five-game burst to lead 3-0 in the second set.

"This is perfection. They are the best players in the world and are proving that even when your body is not as young as it was, when one still has the drive and is well prepared, nothing replaces talent and strong will", said French Open tournament director Guy Forget, a former top-10 player and French Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain.

Nadal was rampant when he broke early in the second, but Thiem raised his game to force a break point when Nadal served at 4-2 - a game in which the Spaniard was warned for slow play.

Nadal had broken on the scene in 2005 as the new supervillain of tennis to counter its resident superhero Roger Federer. In the other semi-final, Marco Cecchinato's unusual run in the last two weeks was ended by Dominic Thiem, also in straight sets, although the first two sets were somewhat closer than anything Del Potro could muster.

Over the best-of-five sets on clay, Nadal improved to 111-2 - it is a figure nearly as imposing as the nearby Eiffel Tower - his lone reverses coming against Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015 at the French Open.

Nadal, however, averted danger with a pass after dragging Thiem in with a deft drop-shot.

Victory on Sunday moved Nadal to just three Slams behind his great rival Roger Federer who, at 36, is more than four years older.

By then, Nadal was finding his spots.

The punishment continued, with Thiem by now looking up to his coach and shrugging as another forehand whistled past him.

It was a cloudy and steamy afternoon, with the temperature at 77 degrees (24 Celsius) and the humidity approaching 70 percent.

If there was a scare for Nadal it was an outbreak of cramp in his left hand in the third set, which he managed to shake off, like everything else this fortnight.

"I just missed some close balls, " he said. "I was not [in] control of my finger".

"He's very aggressive, with big shots", Nadal said in halting French before switching to English. At the following changeover, Nadal was given a salt pill by a doctor and had his left forearm massaged by a trainer. His emotions were on show as he shed a few tears when the national anthem of Spain was played in his honour for the 11th time, an obvious sign of what this tournament means to him.

Shortly after, he'd be holding the silver trophy, the one he knows so well, and crying. The losses came against Thiem at Rome in May 2017 and at Madrid last month.

After an intense claycourt season in which he also collected an 11th Monte Carlo and Barcelona crown and suffered only one defeat in 27 matches, Nadal will take time out for fishing in his native Mallorca before the grasscourt swing.

Go ahead and add 2018 to the lengthy list. "But here we are".