PARIS—In full control of the French Open final, a rather familiar position for him, Rafael Nadal suddenly was worried.
He led by two sets plus a break early in the third when the middle finger on his racket-wielding left hand was cramping so badly he couldn't straighten it.
After serving a fault, Nadal took the unusual step of heading to the sideline in the middle of a game.
“Tough moment," Nadal said later. "I was very scared.”
Up in the stands, Nadal's uncle Toni, his former coach, was nervous, too, “because I thought maybe we can have a problem,” he said.
“But in the end, it was not too difficult.”
It rarely is for Nadal at a place he has lorded over the way no other man ever has at any Grand Slam tournament.
Nadal dealt with that ultimately minor inconvenience and claimed his record-extending 11th French Open championship yesterday by displaying his foe-rattling excellence in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over seventh-seed Dominic Thiem.
“There is a reason why he won 11 times here,” said Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian appearing in his first major final.
“It's definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport.”
Thiem was on the couch, watching on TV, in 2005 when Nadal earned his first Grand Slam trophy in Paris at age 19.
That began a run of four-consecutive French Open triumphs through 2008.
He added five-straight from 2010-14 and now has two in a row.
Throw in three titles at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon, and one at the Australian Open and Nadal is up to 17 majors—second among men only to Roger Federer's 20.
The two stars have combined to win the past six “Slams.”
The victory also allowed the 32-year-old Nadal to hold onto the No. 1 ranking, ahead of Federer.
If there were any reason for a bit of intrigue entering yesterday, it was this: Thiem beat Nadal on red clay at Rome in May, 2017 and again at Madrid last month.
But those are not quite the same as the French Open, where Nadal is 86-2 for his career.
“I am sure you will win here in the next couple of years,” Nadal told Thiem afterward.
Shortly, he would be holding the silver trophy—the one he knows so well—and crying.
“If you tell me seven, eight years ago that I will be here . . . having this trophy with me again, I will tell you that is something almost impossible,” Nadal said.
“But here we are.”
In the women's final on Saturday, Simona Halep beat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 for her first Grand Slam title.
Halep had pined for such a championship to go along with her No. 1 ranking, and she finally had come through after starting her career 0-3 in major finals.
“I think it was the most important thing because always I said that if you are No. 1 without a Grand Slam, you are not a real No. 1,” Halep said.
“Now that I was able to win, it makes it special, and makes it, like, everything together,” she added.