On Sunday, Thiem was right out there at Court Philippe Chatrier, too, making his initial appearance in a major final, swapping shots with that very same Nadal.
"Let me enjoy this title", Nadal said with a smile. "Actually, when he won here the first four or five times, I was always watching it".
But only so much of a thrill. Of course, I have ambition, of course. It was a final. So I just hope I can find my rhythm and range a bit earlier. "I gave everything I had, and I'm the loser of today". While Zverev will put up a fight, he is not good enough to win a set from Federer and as a result, this game should end in 2 sets.
That was about as disheartening as it got for the world number one.
"I will strive to get as far as possible", said Federer, who the No. 1 seed, who got a bye in first round.
After sitting out the clay season to fully rest and prepare for the grass and last playing match in Miami on March 24, the 20-time grand slam victor is quietly confident that all is falling into place as he mounts his quest for a ninth Wimbledon trophy next month.
"You can't be frustrated always if somebody has more money than you, if somebody has a bigger house than you, if somebody has more grand slams than you".
"It was a special thing for me to play the first Slam finals".
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"We have two of the greatest of all time in one era", summed up James Blake, who beat both Nadal and Federer prior to retiring.
That was swatted away with Nadal's double-handed backhand, though, and the second set duly went the way of the favourite.
Until 4-all, 15-all in the opening set, to be precise.
"It's all part of the game I guess, an unfortunate part".
"I was not able to move the hand, the finger", Nadal said. "And it was, for sure, not the turning point".
That defeat saw Rafael Nadal return to the top of the ATP standings, though the Spaniard relinquished the position temporarily after losing to Dominic Thiem in Madrid. Thiem did force Nadal to save a breakpoint, but a less aggressive approach due to the mounting enforced errors meant there was little pressure on Nadal.
Maybe nerves were a factor in Thiem's performance.
Thiem - competing in his first grand slam final after a pair of semifinal showings in Paris - needed to win the first set to have any realistic opportunity of ending Nadal's reign. Why? Of those 86 victories, 78 have come when Nadal has won the first set, after which he has never lost a match on Parisian clay.