Dominic Thiem: 'Babolat balls were perfect for Rafael Nadal and me'

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Dominic Thiem: 'Babolat balls were perfect for Rafael Nadal and me'

World no. 3 and the US Open champion Dominic Thiem is one of three title favorites for Roland Garros that starts on Sunday. Together with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the Austrian is the player to beat in Paris, reaching two semi-finals in 2016 and 2017 and two finals in the previous two years, losing both to Nadal.

After that incredible run in New York, Thiem arrives in Paris with extra confidence, adding his name to that immortal list of Major winners and chasing the second crown at Roland Garros despite a tough draw. In the third quarter, Dominic will have to beat Marin Cilic, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Diego Schwartzman, Borna Coric and Gael Monfils en route to the semis and potential clash against Rafa.

Ready for all the challenges, the Austrian hit a practice court on Thursday, speaking about the upcoming event and the new balls. The organizers have switched from fast Babolat balls to the slower Wilson ones, and Thiem believes it is a disadvantage for both him and Nadal.

The Austrian expects surprises but still maintains his confidence accumulated in New York. In the last year's final, Nadal toppled Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in three hours and one minute for the 12th Roland Garros crown and 18th Major crown overall.

Competing at his 15th Roland Garros, Nadal overpowered all the rivals and confirmed his status of the greatest clay-courter of all time, earning an even more special place among tennis immortals. Rafa became the first player in history with 12 titles at a single Major, and the fourth with four Majors won after turning 30, joining Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Roger Federer on the exclusive list.

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem are set to meet in Roland Garros semi-final.

At the age of 33, Nadal was the third-oldest champion in Paris in the open era after Andres Gimeno (1972) and Ken Rosewall (1968). Rafa grabbed 45% of the return points, breaking Dominic seven times from 13 chances and suffering only two breaks in the entire match, mounting the pressure on the younger opponent.

Hitting 38 winners and 31 unforced errors, the Spaniard had the upper hand, dominating the rallies and halting Thiem on 31 winners and 38 errors after a rock-solid performance that left Dominic with no answer after set number two.

"The balls will make, without a doubt, the most significant difference from the previous years. The Babolat were my favorite balls; they were comfortable and quite fast, perfect for my game and Rafael Nadal's. The new balls are a bit slower.

Of course, that could bring some unexpected results. I'm now a Major champion, and that freedom can help my tennis. I hope to take advantage of the upcoming tournaments after winning the title in New York and transfer that confidence to Paris," Dominic Thiem said.