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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, June 10, 2018

A streaking Rafael Nadal launched a bending banana forehand that dive-bombed into the corner of the court leaving a shell-shocked Dominic Thiem shaking his head.

The top seed transformed Thiem's power into punch lines for his audacious strikes solidifying a remarkable Roland Garros reign.

Watch: Ranking Best Roland Garros Moments

A sharp Nadal outclassed Thiem, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, rampaging to his record-extending 11th Roland Garros championship.

French fans showered the 32-year-old Spaniard with perhaps the longest ovation he's ever received in Paris. An emotional Nadal pinched back tears raising the Coupe de Mousquetaires high in the air clearly moved by the passionate embrace from Roland Garros fans.

"I can't describe my feelings," Nadal said. "It's not even a dream to win here the 11th time. It's impossible to think of something like this."

An ascendent victory for a transcendent champion.

It is Nadal's 17th career Grand Slam championship putting him three-behind all-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer. Nadal and Federer have combined to claim six consecutive major championships.

"Impossible to describe the feeling for me," Nadal told NBC's John McEnroe afterward. "Everyone knows how important this tournament is for me... to have the trophy with me is unbelievable."

The world No. 1 carved up the first-time finalist breaking five times with unerring consistency and some pops of surreal shotmaking. Nadal converted five of 17 break points, dropped just 10 points on his first serve and surrendered serve only once in a two hour, 42-minute triumph.

The king of clay raised his record to a ridiculous 86-2 in Paris with his third Roland Garros conquest of the talented Thiem, who knocked off second-seeded Alexander Zverev en route to his first Grand Slam final.

"Rafa, one of the most awesome things an athlete ever achieved in sport is to win this tournament 11 times," Thiem said. "Congrats, it's amazing. To me, it's still been two great weeks.

"I still remember when you won here the first time in 2005. I was 11 years old watching on TV and honestly never expected that one day I'd play the finals here. So I'm still really happy."

The only real drama came midway through the third set when Nadal suffered cramps to his left hand and called for the trainer holding a 2-1 lead.

"I don't know maybe [it was] like a cramping on the finger," Nadal told NBC's John McEnroe afterward. "I could not hold the racquet for a few minutes. I was very scared because I felt I could not hold the racquet."

Shaking off that stress Nadal, rolled through four of the final five games.  

"Very happy now it has been a tough moment in the third set when I get a little bit of cramp on the hand I was very very scared," Nadal said. "That's sport, [it was] very very humid against a player that pushes you to the limit."

Extending his red-clay reign, Nadal made history as the first player in the Open Era to win 11 titles at three different Tour-level tournaments: Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Paris.

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters carried the Coupe des Mousquetaires to its perch in the front row before the opening coin toss among a star-speckled crowd that included three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, Woody Harrelson and Jon Bon Jovi. Floyd's meditative classic "Breathe"—"Breathe, breathe in the air/Don't be afraid to care"—is an apt anthem for the jitters that come with a Grand Slam final.

World No. 1 Simona Halep said she struggled to breathe closing the women's final yesterday. A tight Thiem was gasping at the start of his major final debut as Nadal rolled through eight of the first nine points breaking for 2-0.

Sailing a wild forehand return over his opponent's head settled Thiem. Pouncing on a mis-hit, Thiem scalded a forehand breaking back in the third game.

On an overcast, humid day, Nadal's pale blue shirt was already saturated with sweat by the sixth game.

The top seed looked like he'd been dipped in indigo ink as Thiem toiled through a 13-minute hold denying a couple of break points for 3-all.

The 10-time champion's superior variety and suffocating defense combined with one sloppy service game from the Austrian decided the set. Spraying three straight forehand errors, Thiem gifted the decisive break at love.

Playing cleaner combinations, Nadal served 65 percent and won 13 of 17 first-serve points snatching the 58-minute opening set. Thiem tested the champion at times with jolting power, but he couldn't consistently land his first serve (45 percent) and over-hit his signature shot, the forehand, on pivotal points.

"I think I was fighting for every ball," Thiem said. "I was giving everything. There is a reason why Rafa won 11 times. He was just too good again here.

"I have to accept it. For sure, I was not doing everything right, but I was not playing way worse than the previous rounds. To play him here is one of the toughest challenges in sports thats why the result looks like this."

The seventh seed is the world's second-best clay-court player, but knows he can still refine some of the rough edges, including his transition game, net play and court positioning. When tested, Thiem tends to try to strong-arm his way through trouble rather than apply all of his assets.

Tormenting Thiem's one-handed backhand with a barrage of topspin drives that bounded shoulder-high, Nadal banged out his fifth break point when Thiem scattered a backhand down the line. Nadal capped a nine-minute game breaking for a 2-0 second-set lead as a frustrated Thiem trudged behind the baseline muttering misgivings.

Backing up the break at 15, Nadal played with greater margin surging through five straight games to take charge before Thiem stalled his slide with a love hold for 1-3.

Even then Thiem made the champion move into obscure areas of the court, Nadal often fired his forehand with menacing, magical results.

Sprinting corner-to-corner, Nadal unloaded a bending banana forehand strike down the line that left Thiem shaking his head.

Working through a spirited hold, Nadal saved a break point for 5-2.

Sweat dripped from his headband as the unrelenting Spaniard squeezed the baseline tourniquet tighter building a two-set lead after one hour, 52 minutes.

Barking at himself between points, Thiem teetered on the break-point ledge but held to open the third set.

Diagonal forehands from the champion created break-point fissures in the third game. On his second break point, Nadal patiently grinded out an 11-shot rally drawing the error from an off-balance Thiem to break for 2-1.

Given the Spaniard's dominance of the preceding two hours of play that fourth break felt fatal.

Holding a two set, 2-1, 30-love lead Nadal began suffering apparent hand cramps and clutched at his fingers with his right hand. Nadal took a timeout for treatment and had the taping wrapping his left wrist removed.

When play resumed, Nadal wrapped the hold at 15.

"My game plan was like in Madrid when I beat him, but obviously here he is one level stronger here," Thiem said. "It's tougher to play my game plan.

"I would love to face him one more time in the finals here. He got the treatment and he was fine again. He was just struggling with his serve again. Even when he is not 100 percent he is still amazing."

Despite spinning some serves in at speeds blow 100 mph, Nadal still rolled through a love hold for 4-2. Rocketing a crackling return, Nadal converted his fifth break for 5-2.

On his fifth championship point, Nadal closed a two hour, 42-minute triumph when a Thiem backhand return sailed beyond the baseline.

Nadal thrust his arms toward the sky with both index fingers extended in the air.

A champion showing his 11th hour as emotionally fulfilling as his first French Open crown.

"It was just very emotional," Nadal said of his tears during the crowd's sustained ovation. "I receive all this love and support from the crowd and the place is more and more important. It's just amazing. I think emotions are always very high when you win something that you never think that win again is possible."


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