On September 11 1999, a rising star of tennis clinched her first grand slam title and, 20 years later, Serena Williams is still going strong.

Williams, aged 17, beat Martina Hingis 6-3 7-6 (7-4) in the US Open final at Flushing Meadows to make a major breakthrough.

Two decades and 23 grand slam titles have passed since then, yet Williams - one triumph shy of equalling Margaret Court's overall major record hall - is still at the pinnacle of the sport.

The American reached her second slam final of 2019 at Flushing Meadows last week, though it ended in defeat to new kid on the block Bianca Andreescu, who also beat Williams in the Rogers Cup final in August – albeit with her opponent retiring at 3-1 down.

It means Williams has lost her last four appearances in grand slam finals since winning the Australian Open in January 2017, but her ever enduring talent means a record-equalling success should never be discounted.

Here are some of the astonishing numbers of Williams' career to date.

72 - Williams has won 72 WTA singles titles so far. Her first was in Paris in 1999, with her most recent coming in Melbourne in 2017.

33 - The 37-year-old has reached an incredible 33 grand slam singles finals, losing just 10 of those.

5 - Williams has finished the year ranked as world number one five times, in 2002, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

39 - Including 14 in doubles and two in mixed doubles, Williams has won 39 major titles - that is a joint-third total since the Open Era began.

1 - Williams is the only player, male or female, to have completed a Golden Slam in both singles and doubles competitions. As well as triumphing at every slam and the Olympics as a singles competitor, Serena has achieved the same feat alongside sister Venus in doubles.

7 - Williams has seven titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, with six more at the US Open, and three at Roland Garros.

319 - Having spent 319 weeks as world number one, Williams is third behind Martina Navratilova (332) and Steffi Graf (377).

2 - She has held all four grand slam trophies on two occasions - in 2002-03 and 2014-15.

97 - In total, Williams has appeared in 97 singles finals on the WTA circuit.

186 - Williams spent 186 weeks as world number one between February 2013 and September 2016, equal with Graf's record from August 1987 to March 1991.

Serena Williams lost the US Open final to Bianca Andreescu on Saturday, her fourth final in the last two years without a win. A win would make Williams the most winningest woman in the Open era of Grand Slams, surpassing Margaret Court's 23 titles. But her latest loss brings into question whether or not she still has what it takes to win a major. The Zone Blitz team answers the question.

French Open champion Ashleigh Barty continued her superb form with a straight-sets win over Donna Vekic at the Birmingham Classic.

Fresh from her win at Roland Garros, second seed Barty had little trouble in adapting from clay to grass as she eased through her first-round match 6-3 6-4 on Wednesday.

Barty did have to get through a wobble early on, but soon got into her stride to dispatch Vekic – a beaten finalist at the Nottingham Open.

The 23-year-old Australian conceded four double faults through the first set, but soon recovered thanks to some unforced Vekic errors.

Barty was tested as she looked to close out the win, as Vekic came up with a series of impressive winners to break serve.

But Barty had the win firmly in her sights, and an exceptional double break set up a match point which she duly converted to earn a second-round tie with Jennifer Brady, who won her contest with Lesia Tsurenko 6-3 6-3.

British number one Johanna Konta, however, did not fare as well – the seventh seed dumped out by Jelena Ostapenko 6-3 6-4 in their second-round clash.

Konta reached the semi-finals in Paris, but 2017 French Open winner Ostapenko was too sharp on the grass court midweek.

Petra Martic will be Ostapenko's opponent in the last eight, where they are joined by Kristyna Pliskova, who beat her twin sister and third seed Karolina 6-2 3-6 7-6 (9-7).

Meanwhile, former world number one Venus Williams enjoyed a winning Birmingham debut as she knocked out Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3 6-4 to reach the second round, where she will take on sixth seed Wang Qiang.

Barbora Strycova beat Hsieh Su-wei 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 in Wednesday's other match.

The "extraordinary" Ashleigh Barty could have been slaying England bowlers in the Ashes next month rather than being a major contender for Wimbledon glory.

Australian Barty claimed her first grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-3 demolition of Marketa Vondrousova in the French Open final last Saturday.

The amiable 23-year-old has soared to second in the WTA rankings following her triumph at Roland Garros and is well fancied to claim back-to-back major titles at the All England Club.

Yet Barty may have been lifting a different trophy in England if she had persisted with professional cricket rather than end an 18-month hiatus to resume her tennis career in 2016.

That is according to Andy Richards, who wasted no time in offering Barty a contract to play for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) after being taken aback by her natural talent.

Barty's former coach Richards told Omnisport: "Without a doubt, another 12 months if she continued playing cricket she could definitely have played for Australia.

"I have no doubt that if she stayed in cricket she would have been in England in a couple of weeks' time for the Ashes.

"I believe it would have been a very natural progression for her and she would have just made it happen. You talk to other people who saw her play and they would say the same. She certainly had the skills to make it happen."

Richards recalls being stunned by Barty's ability when she first strapped on the pads for a net session, seeking a new challenge after quitting tennis due to the demands of life on tour and the expectation on her shoulders.

"For somebody who had never worn a set of pads or gloves, never had a real cricket bat, never batted in a helmet, I fed her probably 150 balls and she missed maybe two to three, probably mistimed six or eight and the rest she hit flush," he said.

"It was most extraordinary. I asked 'are you sure you haven't played before?' And she said just with her dad in the backyard. Her hand-eye ability and ability to access a ball and hit it was most extraordinary.

"Her ability to pick up things was quite spectacular. We have had people come across from other sports, but none even close to her in terms of ability to transfer skills. Going from a cross-bat sport to what is essentially a vertical-bat sport, she was incredible."

Richards added: "She bowled off-spin as well. Hadn't bowled in her life, but I showed her how to do it. She saw Jemma Barsby, who bowls with both hands, and said 'if one person can bowl with both hands, surely I can bowl with one'.

"I showed her how I wanted her to grip the ball and follow through and she just picked it up, it was extraordinary. 

"In her first three games she scored I think a duck, a duck and one - but two of those were against Australia player Jess Jonassen. After that she went out and scored a hundred in a T20 game of club cricket off 63 balls and everything just sort of clicked and she just got better and in the WBBL game she played in she got I think 39 off 27 balls.

"She loved fitting into the team and she loved that none of the girls cared about her as a tennis player, they just cared about Ash Barty as a person."

England bowlers may be relieved Barty will be gracing the lush grass at Wimbledon rather than swinging the willow in the coming weeks.

Rennae Stubbs believes Ashleigh Barty can win back-to-back grand slam titles at Wimbledon and does not expect the French Open champion to peak for at least another two years.

Barty thrashed Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-3 to claim her first major singles title at Roland Garros on Saturday.

The steely Australian rose to the occasion in the biggest match of her career, ruthlessly defeating the Czech teenager in a battle of two first-time major singles finalists.

Four-time grand slam doubles champion Stubbs says there is much more to come from the new world number two and thinks the 23-year-old can win Wimbledon next month.

Stubbs told Omnisport: "Ash has a very good chance at Wimbledon. She can play on every surface and always says she is strongest on grass, although it was no surprise to me she won the French Open, as I always thought she could be great on clay.

"There is no question she can win another slam. She is only going to get better and better and I think she will peak at 25, 26, maybe 27.

"She has so many shots to choose from and I think when you are an all-court player like that, you get better as you get older."

Barty took a 21-month hiatus from tennis - during which time she played professional cricket for Brisbane Heat - before returning to the circuit in 2016 and Stubbs feels she is reaping the rewards from that break.

"I think when you've been a junior Wimbledon champion aged 15 it sets you apart, but it is also is what hurt her going forward with all that expectation and pressure," Stubbs added. 

"She always had the talent, it was just mentally whether she wanted it. She made such a really substantial decision to walk away from the game - when she was doing very well - as she was not happy.

"To go away and play cricket and teach tennis to kids et cetera, it was a really good way for her to step away and realise what she had, which was an incredible ability to play tennis.

"It's amazing that someone of that age to realise she wasn't happy and wasn't going to have the success she thought she probably should being in the mental state she was, which was miserable being away from home.

"I think she knew she was destined to be this good but knew mentally she wasn't ready for it. I think that's an incredible story that she stepped away and came back."

Rafael Nadal tasted success at the French Open for a 12th time and was likened to a "masterpiece" Matisse painting by Gustavo Kuerten.

World number two Nadal overcame Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 in an enthralling match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday to retain La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

No player, man or woman, has been as successful at a single grand slam as the 'King of Clay' has been at Roland Garros.

Three-time French Open champion Kuerten admires Nadal's achievements in Paris and believes there is still room for more.

"It's already impressive enough for us to discuss how the next, or the third or the fifth he will get," Kuerten told Omnisport when asked to appraise a 12th crown for Nadal.

"It's already beyond. He already did the impossible, so it's one more line of the beauty, one more flower at the garden.

"But we are already watching the Matisse painting. It's there. If we do 10, 12, 15 replicas of this art it's better for us. But that's enough for us, enough of beauty to understand that's a masterpiece."

Nadal now sits just two adrift of Roger Federer's record haul of 20 major titles. Kuerten has no doubt the Spaniard will keep adding to his tally by securing further triumphs in Paris.

Asked how many more times we could see Nadal lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires, he playfully said: "Ten more!

"This is the Rafa mode so we are already seeing the impossible. We cannot expect anything less than this, [along] these same lines.

"So he will have normally a good chance of winning and being the favourite for the next three years."

Rafael Nadal claimed his 12th French Open title as this year's tournament at Roland Garros came to an exhilarating conclusion.

The record-breaking crown for Nadal came following a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 triumph over Dominic Thiem in a repeat of last year's final.

With the French Open reaching its denouement, Omnisport's man on the ground Tom Webber delivers the final entry from his daily diary.

 

DECKING OUT THE CONCOURSE

Unfortunately, not everyone could get a seat on Chatrier for Sunday's main event.

The organisers at Roland Garros did their best to try to encourage people to hang around, though.

Deck chairs lined the walkway up to Court Suzanne-Lenglen, with huge numbers of attendees opting to take in the match on one of the big screens.

To be fair, they looked pretty comfortable.

 

AN AWKWARD EVENING

Have you ever been in a situation where your partner really wants to do something but you really don't?

That could very well be the case for Thiem and his girlfriend Kristina Mladenovic on Sunday.

While Thiem suffered defeat to Nadal, his girlfriend triumphed in the women's doubles.

It's the second time Mladenovic has claimed the honour as she and Timea Babos saw off Ying-Ying Duan and Zheng Saisai 6-2 6-3 on Chatrier.

The victory means the Frenchwoman will move to the top of the WTA's doubles rankings – not a bad day's work!

I'm not sure Thiem will be in the same mood for celebrating, though.

 

BARTY BACK FOR MORE

A day after clinching her first major title, Ashleigh Barty was back at Roland Garros for a photo shoot with her new piece of silverware.

The Australian posed in front of the clay wall outside for Chatrier and did her best to respond to an inordinate number of shouts from photographers commanding that she look at them.

But when you're holding La Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen, you're probably happy to put up with that for a few short minutes.

 

AU REVOIR, BULLRING

Sunday was the final time the French Open will be contested with the iconic Court No. 1 still standing.

The stadium will be taken down for the redevelopment of the Mousquetaires square ahead of the 2020 edition.

It was a great place to watch some tennis, but the facilities had certainly not aged well.

Walking through the access tunnel to the media seats almost felt like visiting a prison! (Not that I have).

Rafael Nadal will not play in a grass-court tournament before Wimbledon to ensure he is fully fit for the third grand slam of the year.

Nadal beat Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 to secure an astonishing 12th French Open title on Sunday.

The 18-time grand slam champion has not entered a grass-court event prior to Wimbledon since an appearance at Queen's Club four years ago and the world number two will not be altering his schedule.

"I know I played a great event last year [at Wimbledon]. I have been able to be very close to win another title there." said the 33-year-old Spaniard, a two-time champion at SW19.

"As everybody knows, I love to play on grass. And as everybody knows, I am not able to play so many weeks in a row like I did 10 years ago, eight years ago. So I have to do my schedule.

"The last two years that I played in Wimbledon, I felt close again. Even though I lost to Gilles Muller [in the fourth round] in 2017, I played great tennis there too. I was very close to being in the quarter-finals, and last year I was one point away from the final [when losing in the semis to Novak Djokovic].

"So I will not play before Wimbledon, of course. I felt competitive the last couple of years, so why do I need to change that? What gives me a better chance is being healthy more than playing a lot of matches before."

Nadal was not in the right frame of mind after suffering injury setbacks earlier in the season, but revealed the turning point came at the Barcelona Open.

"After the first round in Barcelona, I was able to stay alone for a couple of hours in the [locker] room and think about it and think about what's going on, what I need to do." he said.

"And there had been a couple of issues that I had to decide. One possibility was to stop for a while and recover my body. And the other was [to] change drastically my attitude and my mentality to play the next couple of weeks.

"Thinking a lot, finally I think I was able to change and was able to fight back for every small improvement that I was able to make happen. And since that first match against [Leonardo] Mayer in Barcelona, I think the things have been improving every single day since today.

"I played not bad in Barcelona the next three rounds. I played better in Madrid, and I played much better in Rome, and here I played a great event.

"So of course these small things that I have been improving every single day and doing with the right attitude, doing with the right passion, that's the only way for me to be back where I am today.

"Of course [to] have this trophy with me means a lot. But the personal satisfaction of changing the dynamic is the thing that I am more satisfied with."

Rafael Nadal insists he will be content if he ends his career with fewer major titles than Roger Federer, stating you cannot be upset if your "neighbour has a bigger house than you".

After winning the French Open for a 12th time with a stunning 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 triumph over Dominic Thiem on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday, Nadal is now just two grand slams short of Federer's haul of 20 – a record in the men's game.

The Roland Garros champion has never previously been as close to his rival's tally of slam titles, having trailed 16-6 when Federer won the 2010 Australian Open.

While Nadal acknowledges the competition between himself, Federer and 15-time major-winner Novak Djokovic has helped push them all to new heights, he will never feel jealous about another's achievements.

"Of course, we push each other. But I lost, I think, around 15 or even more grand slams in my career due to injuries," said Nadal.

"But being honest, I never complain myself much, and I never tried to think about, 'Well, [am] I gonna catch Roger or not?' Being honest, I am not very worried about this stuff.

"You can't be frustrated all the time because the neighbour has a bigger house than you, or a bigger TV or better garden. That's not the way that I see the life.

"I just try to do my way. I feel very lucky about all the things that are happening to me. And if, at the end of my career, I am able to win a couple of more grand slams and be closer to Roger, [it] will be unbelievable.

"If not, for me, still unbelievable, no? And today, the last thing that I thought before you ask me that is about this thing. For me, Roland Garros, feeling myself enjoying again on court - that's the main thing.

"Then what can happen in the future, we will see. I'm gonna try my best to keep enjoying tennis, giving myself chances to compete at the highest level, and we will see what's going on."

Rafael Nadal is continuing to improve despite his advancing years, according to defeated French Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

La Coupe des Mousquetaires was lifted by Nadal for a record-breaking 12th time - no other player has won a single grand slam as many times - on Sunday as he outmuscled Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 in a thrilling encounter on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Victory earned the Spaniard his 18th major title, just two shy of Roger Federer's record haul in the men's game.

Thiem was also beaten by Nadal in last year's final and the Austrian thinks the 'King of Clay' is still managing to up his performance levels despite turning 33 this week.

Asked if Nadal is getting better, Thiem replied: "Yeah, sure. He also improves and develops his game. I mean, if he didn't do that, for sure he wouldn't have that success every year in this tournament.

"I think that we both got better compared to last year, so my goal is to improve even more until next year and come closer and closer."

The pair played out some incredible rallies during the opening games of the first set, before Nadal pounced to seize the initiative.

Thiem credited an aggressive approach for getting him back into the match but felt like he was "stepped on" by the left-hander in the last two sets.

"I think he played outstandingly, because especially in the first two sets I played very good tennis. What he was performing I think is unbelievable, really," said Thiem.

"There has to be a reason why he's that successful. I mean, he's won 18 grand slams, which is a big number, only two less than Roger. So definitely he's one of the greatest of all time. Today, as well, I saw why.

"I played very good the first two sets, and then I had a little drop, which is against most of the players not that bad, but he took the chance and stepped right on me. That's it. I can only congratulate him on how amazing he performed."

Thiem's semi-final with world number one Novak Djokovic only finished on Saturday after being interrupted the previous day.

"I mean, it was a grand slam final, so I didn't feel tired in the match," he said. "But at the same time, a match like [Saturday], beating Novak over two days with all the interruptions, it leaves traces on the body and also on the mind. That's 100 per cent."

Rafael Nadal's win over Dominic Thiem in Sunday's French Open final extended a remarkable record of his at Roland Garros.

Putting aside the momentous achievement of claiming a 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires, Nadal is now 24-0 in semi-finals and finals at the clay-court grand slam.

Following Nadal's latest triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier, we take a look at the men he has beaten at the business end of the tournament.

 

6 - Roger Federer (semi-finals 2005, 2019; final 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)

5 - Novak Djokovic (semi-finals 2007, 2008, 2013; final 2012, 2014)

3 - Dominic Thiem (semi-finals 2017; final 2018, 2019)

2 - Andy Murray (semi-finals 2011, 2014), David Ferrer (semi-finals 2012; final 2013)

1 - Mariano Puerta (final 2005), Ivan Ljubicic (semi-final 2006), Jurgen Melzer (semi-final 2010), Robin Soderling (final 2010), Stan Wawrinka (final 2017), Juan Martin del Potro (semi-final 2018)

Rafael Nadal made history by claiming his 12th French Open title with a stunning 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory over Dominic Thiem on Sunday.

No other player has won a single grand slam as often, with Nadal's latest triumph at Roland Garros sending him clear of Margaret Court's 11 successes at the Australian Open.

The 'King of Clay' continued his love affair with the tournament by seeing off Thiem for a second year in succession, earning his 93rd win in 95 matches in Paris.

We look back at how the remarkable Nadal claimed each of his 12 titles to date.

 

Number One - 2005

A teenage Nadal was among the favourites as he went into his first French Open on the back of a 17-match winning streak. He had already won five titles on the ATP Tour that year and was ranked fifth in the world at the start of the tournament. He beat Xavier Malisse, Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer in straight sets en route to a semi-final against world number one and career Grand Slam-chasing Roger Federer. Nadal had lost a five-set thriller with the Swiss in Miami in April but was triumphant on his 19th birthday to book a place in the final, where he dispatched of the unseeded Mariano Puerta 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 6-1 7-5. 

Number Two - 2006

The year got off to a frustrating start for Nadal as a foot injury ruled him out of the Australian Open, but he once more arrived at Roland Garros on the back of a 17-match winning streak. Included in that run were Monte Carlo and Rome final victories over Federer, who he also beat in Dubai in March, and the pair went head to head again in the French Open final. Federer took the opening set 6-1 but Nadal rallied back impressively to retain his crown with a 1-6 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7-4) triumph. The long-haired Spaniard had denied the Swiss the chance to hold all four grand slams at the same time.

Number Three - 2007

Defeat to Federer in the final of an ATP Masters 1000 event in Hamburg in May seemed to suggest Nadal's love affair with Roland Garros could be set for a break. The Spaniard had other ideas, though. He marched to the final without dropping a set, defeating Lleyton Hewitt and Novak Djokovic en route, before once more coming out on top on the Parisian clay as one of the sport's greatest rivalries continued to develop. Federer's hopes of being champion of all four majors were dashed by his young rival once more.

Number Four - 2008

Nadal avenged his Hamburg defeat to Federer a year prior with a straight-sets victory over the Swiss, priming him for a fourth successive triumph at the French Open - the Spaniard had also won their previous 2008 meeting at the Monte-Carlo Masters. An utterly dominant display from Nadal saw him surge to the title without dropping a set, overcoming Djokovic in the semis before a sensational 6-1 6-3 6-0 triumph over Federer in the final. Federer may have had 12 grand slam titles in his possession, but Nadal's dominance on clay meant glory at Roland Garros continued to evade him. To rub salt into the wounds, the Spaniard would end the year at the top of the rankings for the first time in his career.

Number Five - 2010

After being handed his first taste of defeat at Roland Garros by Robin Soderling amid persistent knee issues in 2009, a result that enabled Federer to end his long wait to claim La Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time in his career, Nadal provided the most emphatic of responses. This time he did not have to come up against Federer; instead he faced the Swiss' conqueror and the man who had dumped him out a year prior – Soderling. Nadal did not err against the world number seven, taking the title without dropping a set for the second time after a 6-4 6-2 6-4 win in the final. It was the first of three straight major wins for the Spaniard, whose Grand Slam was completed with victory in the US Open of that year.

Number Six - 2011

Normal service was resumed as Nadal and Federer met in the main event once again. Djokovic had defeated Nadal on the clay of Madrid and Rome, but the Serbian was denied a place in the final by third seed Federer. The Swiss was unable to follow up that victory, though, as Nadal's dominance eventually showed in a 7-5 7-6 (7-3) 5-7 6-1 triumph. They did not meet again at Roland Garros for another eight years.

Number Seven - 2012    

Another great rivalry had begun to emerge with Djokovic having responded to his defeat to Federer in the 2011 French Open semi-finals by winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. Nadal was beaten in all three of those showpieces, but he gained vengeance by denying the Serbian in his first attempt to complete a career Grand Slam. The Spaniard had beaten Djokovic in Monte Carlo and Rome and he made it a hat-trick with a 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5 victory in Paris.

Number Eight - 2013

Nadal's powerful running was thought to be a major factor behind ongoing knee issues, with tendonitis ruling him out of the 2012 US Open. He sat out the following Australian Open due to a stomach virus, meaning he spent close to six months off the tour. It did not stop him from going all the way at Roland Garros, though. He had put together a 15-match winning streak that included titles in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome and extended it to 22 with a straight-sets win over countryman David Ferrer in the final. However, it was an incredible 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 semi-final success against Djokovic that was the stand-out moment on his way to an eighth title in Paris.

Number Nine - 2014

Nadal began the year with defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final, but his performance in Melbourne had been hampered by a back problem tweaked in the warm up. The Spaniard went to Roland Garros with just one clay-court title under his belt that year – the Madrid Open – and having gone down to Djokovic in Rome. However, he made history with his fifth straight French Open title outstripping the four in succession claimed by the legendary Bjorn Borg. Nadal comfortably overcame Andy Murray in the semi-finals and fought from a set down to beat Djokovic 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 in the final, but it would be, by his own stunning standards, a long wait for his next taste of grand slam glory.

Number Ten - 2017

With Nadal having entered his 30s and injury problems continuing to plague him – a wrist injury forced him to curtail his 2016 season in October – questions were asked as to whether he would add to his haul of 14 grand slams. There were promising signs at the Australian Open but Federer, himself having overcome knee and back issues, was too good in the Melbourne final. Nadal was at home on the clay, though. After winning his 10th titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona – a feat no other man has achieved in a single event in the Open Era – he completed 'La Decima' at Roland Garros with an imperious 6-2 6-3 6-1 victory over Wawrinka.

Number Eleven - 2018

En route to the final, Nadal extended his record of consecutive set victories at Roland Garros to 37, until Diego Schwartzman claimed the opener of their quarter-final tie. Following an overnight rain delay, the Spaniard was a different animal the next day and recovered to win in four sets before Juan Martin del Potro was beaten comfortably in the last four. Thiem's recent record against Nadal - including a quarter-final win at the Madrid Open in May - prompted some to suggest an upset could be on the cards. Nadal was having none of it. A tightly-contested opening set looked to be heading for a tie-break until the Austrian crumbled at 5-4 down and was broken to love. Although Thiem fought valiantly throughout the second, Nadal was simply too good and, even when battling cramp in his left arm in the third, had enough in the tank to clinch a 6-4 6-3 6-2 win.

Number Twelve - 2019

Nadal and Thiem were back on Court Philippe-Chatrier for a rematch 12 months later. The world number four triumphed in their Barcelona Open semi-final en route to the title in April, but his chances of dethroning the 'King of Clay' were dealt a blow by the fact his semi-final against world number one Djokovic went all the way to five sets and did not finish until 24 hours before the showpiece. Still, he showed incredible intensity during the early exchanges and even earned the first break, but Nadal roared back to seal a stunning first set. An uncharacteristic string of errors from the Spaniard allowed his opponent to get back on level terms, but he ratcheted up his play several notches thereafter and raced to his record-breaking 12th title.

Rafael Nadal tipped Dominic Thiem for future success at Roland Garros after beating the Austrian to secure a remarkable 12th French Open title.

For the second year in succession, Nadal got the better of Thiem in the final on Court Philippe-Chatrier, triumphing 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 to set a new record for the most singles victories by any player at one grand slam.

Although the reigning champion did drop a set on this occasion, he ultimately prevailed with a degree of comfort once again and appears unstoppable in Paris when fully fit.

Nadal will surely have his sights set on further glory at his favourite grand slam, but he backed Thiem to also lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

"The first thing that I want to say is congrats to Dominic and I feel sorry because he deserves it here too," said a magnanimous Nadal on court following his 18th slam success.

"You are one of the best examples that we have on tour, a very hard worker, always with a smile on your face and a good person, that's the most important thing.

"I know how tough it is losing finals, but that is sport and, being honest, if I wanted to lose to someone it would be you, because you deserve it. Keep going – you will win this, for sure."

World number four Thiem, who performed outstandingly in the opening set but still lost it 6-3, was similarly gracious when speaking at the trophy presentation.

"It's tough right now because I gave it everything I had the last two weeks," he said.

"Rafa, well done. Of course I am very sad to lose, but you're such an amazing champion, such a legend of our sport.

"We can be really happy that you are playing. It's amazing, 12 times here, it's unreal. I will try next year again, for sure."

Dominic Thiem was expecting "the ultimate challenge" against Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. That was exactly what he got.

The astounding 'King of Clay' earned a record-breaking 12th French Open title by overpowering the gutsy Thiem 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 on Sunday – no other player, male or female, has won a single grand slam as many times.

Thiem and Nadal's long-time rival Roger Federer, who the defending champion beat comprehensively in the semi-finals, were under no illusions about the enormity of the task beating the world number two on the red dirt represents when speaking to the media this week.

World number four Thiem was not up to it when the pair met in last year's final. He was unable to cope with the Spaniard's unforgiving shot making and found himself clinically swept aside in straight sets.

It looked like it could be a different story this time around, but, as he always does, Nadal simply reached a level no other player can match and secured a return to his Roland Garros throne.

Thiem darted around the court at magnificent pace in the first set, returning shots the second seed would normally be turning for his towel after hitting.

His approach made Nadal sweat. The Austrian mixed some of the fiercest groundstrokes with the deftest of drop shots to keep his opponent on his toes.

The pair were consistently embroiled in brutal, punishing rallies. The crowd were on the edge of their seats. They were gasping in awe as seemingly impossible shots crossed back and forth over the net. They shushed one another mid-point, hoping they may help prolong the battle between two masters of the clay. It was enthralling and tiring to watch.

Not many gave Thiem much of a chance, particularly after he had to go through five sets to get through world number one Novak Djokovic in a match that was interrupted three times due to rain and did not finish until Saturday, less than 24 hours before the scheduled start time of the final.

It was the fourth day in succession that he had taken to the court, while Nadal entered the final having played just twice this week.

However, it was Thiem who struck the first blow. A blistering forehand into the corner set up break point and although Nadal was able to loop the next one back, the fourth seed smashed it right past him.

That is not enough against the world number two, though. His pinpoint forehand got the contest back on serve and he charged from well behind the baseline to chase down one of the 25-year-old 's exquisite drop shots and reply with his own for break point. When Thiem failed to stave it off, the first set was effectively sealed.

A score of 6-3 scarcely seemed fair. Thiem must have been wondering at the changeover what more he could have done; in the 95 matches Nadal has played at Roland Garros it will be a question that has been asked by his opponents time and time again, with Robin Soderling and Djokovic handing him his only losses in Paris in 2009 and 2015 respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the intensity dipped in the second set. Thiem performed well behind his own serve but claimed just one point on his opponent's, before the 33-year-old crumbled in the final game and four straight errors put the match back on level terms.

Seemingly annoyed at dropping just his second set of the tournament, Nadal came out with a renewed energy in the third and the man on the other side of the net did not have the reserves to match him. After hitting an incredible forehand pass for his second break, Nadal erupted. An immense roar. A pumping fist. A decisive moment.

Another gear had been found and there was no let up from the relentless Spaniard, leaving an exasperated Thiem with his arms outstretched after a rip-roaring forehand denied him a break.

The unyielding left-hander was suddenly too much for Thiem to handle. The match was taken out of his hands, and into Nadal's, yet again, went La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

The irrepressible Rafael Nadal produced yet another clay-court masterclass to overcome a superb effort from Dominic Thiem and make history with an astonishing 12th French Open triumph.

In improving his win-loss record at Roland Garros to a scarcely believable 93-2 on Sunday, courtesy of a 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory, Nadal became the first player in history to win a dozen singles crowns at a grand slam event, surpassing Margaret Court's haul of 11 Australian Open victories.

At 33, the Spaniard looked as dominant as ever on Court Philippe-Chatrier and Thiem must have felt there was little more he could do as he was ultimately well beaten in the final for a second year in succession, despite producing some sparkling play of his own.

Thiem, who knocked out world number one Novak Djokovic in the last four, at least claimed a well-deserved set on this occasion after proving more than a match for the 'King of Clay' for the best part of two hours.

However, Nadal simply responded to the setback by racing to victory in ruthless fashion. It remains hard to see how he can possibly be stopped in this event when fully fit.

His third consecutive triumph in Paris means he now has 18 slam titles, just two short of the record 20 claimed by his great rival, Roger Federer. Barring injury, this will surely not be the last time he lifts the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Having eliminated Djokovic in a five-set contest that finished on Saturday following interruptions for rain, Thiem could have been forgiven for starting sluggishly but the Austrian was magnificent in the opening exchanges, his admirable athleticism and court coverage matched by some superb shot-making.

The world number four even claimed the first break of the contest to edge 3-2 ahead, but Nadal – relentless and accurate as ever on his favourite surface – cancelled it out immediately before enjoying further success on Thiem's serve and wrapping up the opening set to strike a hammer blow.

It was tough to find any way back for Thiem, particularly as the reigning champion repeatedly held serve with ease in set two, yet a surprising twist in the tale followed.

Having dropped only one point in five service games, Nadal made three successive errors serving at 5-6 and then put a backhand long under pressure, ensuring the match was back on level terms after an hour and three quarters.

Sadly for Thiem and those hoping for an upset, the underdog's level dipped significantly at the start of set three, allowing a resurgent Nadal – who had left the court upon being pegged back – to swiftly reclaim the initiative with a run of 11 straight points and two successive breaks.

An increasingly aggressive Nadal was at his clinical best as he wrapped up the set in just 24 minutes, and the end was nigh when he won the first three games of the fourth, albeit while being forced to save a trio of break points.

Thiem, whose girlfriend Kristina Mladenovic won the women's doubles title alongside Timea Babos earlier in the day, dug deep to recover from 0-40 in his next service game, but his display of grit only delayed the inevitable.

Nadal is simply unstoppable at Roland Garros. You can make a case for several different players being the greatest of all time, but his dominance of a single slam is without parallel and may never be topped.

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