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Rafael Nadal takes out extraordinary 11th singles title at Roland Garros

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RAFAEL Nadal has starkly illustrated the gulf separating himself and pretenders to the world claycourt throne, destroying heir apparent Dominic Thiem to claim an extraordinary 11th French Open crown.

“It’s amazing, I can’t describe my feelings because it’s not even a dream to win here 11 times,” Nadal said after the match. “It’s impossible to think something like this.”

Still, the world No 1 withstood a spirited challenge from the seventh seed, progressing to an almost inevitable 6-4 6-3 6-2 win overshadowed by an injury scare and warnings over the time he was taking between points.

Nadal, 32, needed treatment midway through the third set when he began to cramp in his left arm, complaining to his box he had lost feeling in a finger.

It made no difference as he ploughed to victory.

Earlier, he was given a warning late in the second set for taking longer than 25 seconds between points.

The world No 1 repeatedly went over the limit, on several occasions taking more than 40 seconds and he was cautioned again at the end of the second set.

In the overall scheme of things, it was irrelevant.

The Mallorcan was clearly superior against the only man to beat him on clay in the past two years — another measure of how far ahead of the rest of the field Nadal remains.

Both of Thiem’s wins came in best-of-three set formats. Over five sets, Nadal is close to invincible.

And he proved it for the 11th time at his favourite tournament.

He is only the second player in history to win 11 singles title at a grand slam tournament.

With victories here in 2005-08, 2010-14 and 2017-18, the Mallorcan emulated Margaret Court’s haul at the Australian championship from 1960-73.

The win was Nadal’s 415th on clay. He has lost a total of only 34 matches on the slow red dirt in a 16-season career.

Underlining the left-hander’s dominance on clay, the French Open is the third separate event where he has claimed 11 titles — Monte Carlo and Barcelona are the others.

As a comparison, Roger Federer’s eight crowns at Wimbledon is second on the table of most wins at the same major.

Nadal’s 17th major moves him to within three of Federer’s 20. The Swiss is favourite to successfully defend the All England Club throne next month.

Nadal has never lost a Roland Garros final and has now won 86 of 88 matches at the home of clay.

Nadal’s victory meant the remarkable duopoly he shares with 36-year-old Federer has become far more of a twilight quirk.

Between them, Nadal (2017-18 French and ‘17 US Open) and Federer (2017-18 Australian Open and ‘17 Wimbledon) have won the past six majors.

Contesting his 24th major championship match, Nadal unwound a frenzied opening to speed to a 2-0 lead before Thiem’s nerves settled.

The underdog broke back immediately, attacking Nadal’s backhand with high balls before unloading devastating forehands.

The strategy worked perfectly until the 10th game, when serving at 4-5, Thiem collapsed with four unforced errors as Nadal upped the ante.

Bellowing at his coach Gunter Bresnik, Thiem lost five straight games as Nadal forged clear.

By then, still relatively early in the contest, Thiem was in a lethal tailspin.

As the match wore on, the Austrian’s backhand was increasingly hammered by Nadal — and Thiem cracked.

It was a slow and brutal. But highly effective.

Despite treatment on his forearm throughout the third set, Nadal continued to turn the screws with merciless conviction.

Thiem saved four match points at 5-2 before nudging a backhand return long after 162 minutes

With 26 winners and only 24 unforced errors, Nadal swept to his 79th career title and 57th on clay.

Watched by former champions Ken Rosewall, Gustavo Kuerten and Manolo Santana, Thiem was compensated with $1.8 million.
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