Nadal anticipates end of an era
Rafael Nadal sensed a changing of the guard despite giving Dominic Thiem a clay-court lesson in their second-round clash at the French Open.
Twenty-year-old Austrian Thiem is one of the brightest talents in the men's game but he will know just how far he still has to go after a 6-2 6-2 6-3 loss on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Thiem had his moments and delighted the crowd with his 27 crushing winners, 11 more than his opponent.
But ultimately his 41 unforced errors had the greater impact on the scoreline as Nadal brilliantly dealt with everything thrown at him and sent it back with interest.
Last year the eight-time champion lost sets in both his first two matches but this time he has breezed through and it would be a major surprise if Argentinian Leonardo Mayer detained him for too long in the third round.
Despite the ease of his victory, Nadal was hugely impressed by Thiem and said: "I think that our generation is now on the way out.
"(Andy) Murray, (Novak) Djokovic, (David) Ferrer, and (Tomas) Berdych and others, (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga, as well, we have been here for a long while.
"A generation is walking away and others will replace us. It will not come overnight, but it will come.
"I think that this player has a huge potential and could be one of the ones who's going to replace us. His tennis style is really good. What he could work on is his footwork and how he moves on the court. That's all."
Thiem really set tongues wagging earlier this month when he beat Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in Madrid.
That made him the youngest man to beat a top-three player since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
The Austrian, who shares a coach with Ernests Gulbis, is determined to learn from his experience, saying: "It was a great feeling to play on this court.
"I expected it, everything that came after. I knew that it's going to be the biggest challenge in my tennis career.
"It's really important to play against these guys a lot, because it's more important than every practice, I think. I hope I can take a lot with me from this match."
Nadal's only defeat at Roland Garros since he won the title on his debut in 2005 came against Robin Soderling in 2009 and he is bidding to become the first man to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires five times in a row.
But the Spaniard's build-up, with losses in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, put his status as favourite very much in question.
Thiem said with a smile: "I think everybody wants this crisis, which everybody says he has. I think there are only a few players who can hurt him in this tournament."
Nadal has been open about the doubts that have crept into his mind since his Australian Open final loss to Wawrinka but he gave himself high marks for Thursday's performance.
The Spaniard said: "I think it was a dangerous match. I played the way that I would like to play."
Fourth seed David Ferrer, who lost his first grand slam final to Nadal 12 months ago, eased through with a 6-2 6-3 6-2 victory over Italy's Simone Bolelli.
There was also an impressive victory for American Donald Young, who had never won a match at Roland Garros before this year but knocked out 26th seed Feliciano Lopez 6-3 7-6 (7/1) 6-3.
The 24-year-old hails from Chicago like 18-year-old Taylor Townsend, who at her first grand slam posted one of the stand-out wins of Wednesday against 20th seed Alize Cornet.
Young said: "I have known her since she was born. Her and her sisters, it's more like a brother/sister type thing than friends because I have known them forever.
"I've seen her grow up and it's great to see her playing well and winning matches. And to be at this level, it's awesome. I'm really excited for her."
Young next plays Wawrinka's conqueror Guillermo Garcia-Lopez while there were also wins for French duo Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils, the latter now preparing to meet fellow crowd-pleaser Fabio Fognini.
Meanwhile, there will be a clash of the giants between 6ft 11in Ivo Karlovic, who is playing the best clay-court tennis of his life aged 35, and 6ft 8in Kevin Anderson.
In Friday's third-round matches, second seed Novak Djokovic has a potentially tricky clash against Marin Cilic while Roger Federer meets Russian Dmitry Tursunov.