The video of Dominic Thiem's surprise win over Rafael Nadal last week in Rome will be in high demand for those harbouring hopes of stopping the Spaniard's march towards a 10th French Open crown next week. It will be about their only crumb of comfort because the 30-year-old, apart from that blip at the Foro Italico, has looked back to his invincible best on the red dust as he seeks to regain the crown he lost two years ago.
Watching Nadal rack up 17 consecutive victories during which he swept through Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid was like turning the clock back a decade when to challenge him on a claycourt was an act of folly. Until he faced the stylish young Austrian Thiem, whom he had dispatched with ease the week before in the Madrid final, Nadal had dropped only two sets during the European claycourt swing. In Madrid he trounced Nick Kyrgios, David Goffin and French Open champion Novak Djokovic on his way to a record-extending 52nd title on his favoured clay.
No wonder it is hard to find anyone not backing him to claim 'La Decima' in Paris. Nadal withdrew in the third round at last year's French Open with a wrist injury and in 2015, with his confidence at a low ebb, he was overwhelmed by Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Nadal has a Tour-leading 36 match wins, sits top of the ATP Race standings and is back at number four in the rankings. It is actually Nadal's best start to the European clay season since 2010 when he won all three tournaments he played in the build-up to Paris. The Spaniard puts this year's resurgence down to the decision he took last October to rest.