Rafael Nadal wins French Open for 11th time

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PARIS — In full control of the French Open final, a familiar position for him, top-seeded Rafael Nadal suddenly was worried.

He led by two sets and had 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 later would say. ‘‘I was very scared.’’

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 title Sunday by displaying his foe-rattling excellence in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory against seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem.

‘‘There is a reason why he won 11 times here,’’ said Thiem, who was appearing in his first major final. ‘‘It’s definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport.’’

Thiem was on the couch in 2005, watching on TV, 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 in a row from 2010 to 2014 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 to Roger Federer’s 20. The two have combined to win the last six Slams.

If there were any reason for a bit of intrigue entering the match, it was this: Thiem beat Nadal on red clay in May 2017 in Rome and again last month in Madrid.

But those are not quite the same as the French Open, where Nadal is 86-2 in his career.

‘‘I am sure you will win here in the next couple of years,’’ Nadal told Thiem afterward.

Against many other opponents, Thiem would have made things interesting. He pounded huge serves that topped 135 mph and translated into seven aces but also had five double faults. He took the biggest of big cuts on groundstrokes, his feet leaving the ground as he threw his whole body into them, as though the very outcome depended on the strength of that one whip of his racket. That led to 34 winners (eight more than Nadal) but also to 42 unforced errors (18 more than Nadal).

It worked — for a bit. Until 4-all, 15-all in the first set, to be precise. Nadal held for 5-4, and Thiem basically handed over the next game — and the set — with a volley into the net, a forehand wide, a forehand into the net and a forehand long.

‘‘Terrible misses,’’ Thiem said.

Just like that, Nadal was off on a five-game burst to lead 3-0 in the second set. Thiem never mounted a serious threat after that.

A few hours earlier, as Nadal and Thiem warmed up, the booming voice of the announcer at Court Philippe Chatrier detailed the bona fides of both. Nadal’s introduction included a year-by-year accounting of every time he already had won the French Open.

The crowd responded with polite applause at the mention of 2005. It added more voices by the time 2008 rolled around. The crescendo rose to a full-throated roar for 2017.

Go ahead and add 2018 to the list.

‘‘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.’’

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