PARIS — When Dominic Thiem gazed into space over Rafael Nadal’s shoulder during their brief fraternal hug at the net after their French Open championship match, he could be forgiven for wondering how much further away the horizon lies.
Moments later, Nadal bit down lightly on one handle of the silver Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy, as per tradition, leaving a few more strands of DNA on the prize he was holding for the 12th time. Following Sunday’s 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 win, and likely forever in collective memory, it is organically his.
Zooming out from that closeup, Thiem’s intrepid but ultimately unsuccessful effort to dethrone Nadal for the second consecutive year reflects the bigger picture we saw in Paris over the weekend. There is still a logjam on the approach to the summit of men’s tennis, while the women’s game is swarming with younger players capable of planting their flags.
Both trends should be comforting to anyone who has worried about what will happen when the sport’s most celebrated athletes finally yield to age and gravity.
The bracket on the women’s side imploded in this windblown tournament, but when the clay dust cleared, an appealing new ambassador for tennis was left standing: 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty, the versatile Australian who won her first major title here Saturday. The men’s draw dwindled relentlessly to the top four seeds, but a gifted, personable group of players is applying considerable pressure from beneath, including fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev and sixth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, who had impressive runs.
Thiem, 25, is the leader of that beta-dog pack. Yet such is Nadal’s historical prowess here that when the Austrian had the temerity to win the second set — advancing one step further on the final than he could last year — you could almost sense opposing waves of thought crashing amid the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. There was understandable yearning for a lengthy and evenly played match, but anyone who has been paying attention over the past 14 years also braced for the onslaught. Read More