ICYMI at French Open Dominic Thiem the man to end Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros dominance


PARIS — In October last year, 1995 French Open champion Thomas Muster gave an interview to Austrian media saying Dominic Thiem would win majors: Most probably Roland Garros.

On Sunday, that could be a reality. Thiem became only the second Austrian player to reach a Grand Slam final when he defeated unseeded surprise package Marco Cecchinato in their French Open semifinal Friday.

Now, 23 years later, Thiem is one win away from emulating his countryman.

“He sent a message to my physio because they work together,” Thiem said in press after his win. “We have a special relationship because of the match we played when he made his comeback in Vienna [in 2011]. Like, this was his last ATP match of his second career.

“He’s a role model for every Austrian tennis player. He’s the biggest in our sport in Austria. And that’s why, even though I’m a little bit too young for him, he’s still a role model for everyone.”

The only man standing in Thiem’s way to a first major title? Ten-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal, who beat Juan Martin del Potro to reach final No. 11 in Paris.

Sunday’s showdown is set to be a real treat: Nadal has won every French Open final he has contested (10), and Thiem is the only player to have beaten the Spaniard on clay over the past two seasons: in Rome last year and then Madrid last month.

A long Thiem ago…

Fresh from promoting the release of Disney’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Woody Harrelson — who plays Beckett in the motion picture — was spotted on Court Philippe Chatrier during men’s semifinal day.

On course for an 11th Roland Garros title, Nadal looks a galaxy far, far away from his rivals. In fact, it might just take the Force to stop him.

A day off spoiled

Sloane Stephens has the chance to win her second Grand Slam in nine months. But the American is just happy to be here.

After suffering a left foot injury in 2016, Stephens endured an 11-month layoff that included surgery. Ahead of the US Open in August, she was ranked No. 957 in the world. Stephens left Flushing Meadows as champion.

After a slow start to 2018 — Stephens suffered first-round defeat at the Australian Open — the Plantation, Florida, native went on to capture the Miami Open title and now finds herself within touching distance of a maiden Roland Garros crown. She will leave Paris as world No. 4.

“After not playing for 11 months, it’s some great results,” Stephens said ahead of the French Open final, where she will face No. 1 Simona Halep for the title. “I’m really pleased with that.

“Obviously a lot of hard work went into it, a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotions. Am I ever going to be the same? Am I ever going to play good again at a high enough level? Am I a protected ranking?

“There were so many things that went into it. I have matured a little bit and have recognized the opportunities when they have been presented. I think the most important thing is that I have taken those opportunities and done a lot with them.”

There are downsides to success, of course — fewer days off, for one:

Sloane Stephens reached her maiden French Open final and will attempt to win her second Grand Slam in nine months on Saturday. The 25-year-old is the first American woman without the last name Williams to reach the Roland Garros final since Jennifer Capriati in 2001. How is she coping with the growing spotlight? “It’s not bad. You guys [the media] actually haven’t been bad the last two weeks,” Stephens joked in her pre-final press conference Friday. “Obviously with wins and the deeper you go into a tournament, there is more expectation on you. It’s not always fun. Today is my off day, and I’m spending it with you guys! It’s not ideal, but it’s what comes with winning.”

Rob Bartlett, ESPN UK Associate Editor9h ago

World No. 1 Simona Halep also had some nice words to say about her opponent ahead of their clash:

Simona Halep was full of praise for French Open final opponent Sloane Stephens in her pre-final press conference Friday. Stephens returned from an 11-month injury layoff last year and went on to win the US Open, her first major title. “She came and after two tournaments she won a Grand Slam. That’s pretty amazing,” Halep said at Roland Garros. The world No. 1 is into her fourth major final — her third in Paris — but is still looking for a first Grand Slam win. “I feel great in this position. Hopefully tomorrow I will be better than previous ones,” she said. “As you all know, it’s my favorite Grand Slam. I feel like home here.”

Rob Bartlett, ESPN UK Associate Editor9h ago

And, despite it being a rest day, neither player could stay away from Court Philippe Chatrier, with both taking in the men’s semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro.

All change

Redevelopment continues at Roland Garros with all improvements set for completion by 2020. And it’s looking good:

Surface swap

Out with the clay, in with the grass. Petra Kvitova is ready for a fresh start — and new look — as Wimbledon approaches.

Will her new finely tuned locks help her to win a third title at the All England Club? Perhaps, but she’d be better off relying on that monster serve of hers.

Like Kvitova, Angelique Kerber is also off to the luxurious lawns of the grass season. She’s played terrific tennis this year, but is it good enough to win a first Wimbledon crown?

Bad hair day

Speaking of haircuts … we’re sorry, Del Po!

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