Saturday 24 February 2018

Nadal talks up next generation after gritty victory

Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his win over Austrian Dominic Thiem at the French Open yesterday. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal returns a shot during his win over Austrian Dominic Thiem at the French Open yesterday. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal sensed a changing of the guard despite giving Dominic Thiem a clay-court lesson in their second-round clash at the French Open.

Twenty-year-old Austrian Thiem is one of the brightest talents in the men's game but he will know just how far he still has to go after a 6-2 6-2 6-3 loss on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Thiem had his moments and delighted the crowd with his 27 crushing winners, 11 more than his opponent.

But ultimately his 41 unforced errors had the greater impact on the scoreline as Nadal brilliantly dealt with everything thrown at him and sent it back with interest.

Last year the eight-time champion lost sets in both his first two matches but this time he has breezed through and it would be a major surprise if Argentinian Leonardo Mayer detained him for too long in the third round.

Despite the ease of his victory, Nadal was hugely impressed by Thiem and said: "I think that our generation is now on the way out.

"(Andy) Murray, (Novak) Djokovic, (David) Ferrer, and (Tomas) Berdych and others, (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga, as well, we have been here for a long while.

"A generation is walking away and others will replace us. It will not come overnight, but it will come.

"I think that this player has a huge potential and could be one of the ones who's going to replace us. His tennis style is really good. What he could work on is his footwork and how he moves on the court. That's all."

Thiem really set tongues wagging earlier this month when he beat Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in Madrid.

That made him the youngest man to beat a top-three player since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.

The Austrian is determined to learn from his experience, saying: "It was a great feeling to play on this court.

"I expected it, everything that came after. I knew that it was going to be the biggest challenge in my tennis career.

"It's really important to play against these guys a lot, because it's more important than every practice, I think." Nadal's only defeat at Roland Garros since he won the title on his debut in 2005 came against Robin Soderling in 2009 and he is bidding to become the first man to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires five times in a row.

Thiem said with a smile: "I think everybody wants this crisis, which everybody says he has. I think there are only a few players who can hurt him in this tournament."

Meanwhile, Murray confirmed he has talked to female as well as male candidates about becoming his next coach.

Speculation about who will replace Ivan Lendl has grown ever since the pair stopped working together in March. The latest name to emerge is former Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, who was spotted in the stands watching Murray's first-round victory over Andrey Golubev at the French Open.

There was no sign of the Frenchwoman as Murray breezed through his second-round clash with Marinko Matosevic, beating the Australian 6-3 6-1 6-3.

Fourth seed David Ferrer eased through with a 6-2 6-3 6-2 victory over Italy's Simone Bolelli.

In today's third-round matches, second seed Novak Djokovic has a potentially tricky clash against Marin Cilic, while Roger Federer meets Russian Dmitry Tursunov.

FRENCH OPEN, LIVE, SETANTA IRL/ITV4/EUROSPORT, FROM 9.30am

Irish Independent

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