Dominic Thiem heaped praise on French Open champion Rafael Nadal, calling the latter's dominance on the red dirt "most outstanding thing an athlete has ever achieved in sport".
Graceful in defeat, the 25-year-old Austrian said he had never expected to play a French Open final against Nadal. He added that he is hoping to feature in another Roland Garros final soon, and hopefully challenge the Spaniard in one such meeting.
As expected, Nadal eased to a historic 11th French Open title after demolishing Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 at Philippe Chatrier in a one-sided final on Sunday.
With the win, Nadal took his Grand Slam tally to 17, three behind Roger Federer's all-time record of 20. He is now 86-2 at French Open and has finished the clay-court swing of the ongoing-season with a 24-1 record.
The Spanish ace has also become the fourth man in Open Era to win three or more Grand Slam title after turning 30. The elite list also has Federer, Rod Laver, and Ken Rosewall.
"What you're doing is one of the most outstanding athlete achievement in sport. Congrats, it's amazing," Thiem said after his defeat on Sunday.
"It's still been a great two weeks [for me]. I remember when you won here the first time in 2005, I was 11 years old watching on the TV and honestly I never expected that one day I would play the final here so I'm really happy," he added.
"Thank you to all of you. I love the tournament in general, I lost the final in the juniors and lost today and soon I hope to get another chance - maybe even against you [Nadal], it would be a dream."
11 finals, 11 titles: Unstopabble Nadal!
Nadal had headed into the final with a 100% record in Paris final. However, it was widely perceived that Thiem, the only player to have beaten the King of Clay in the last two seasons on his favourite surface, would come up with a good fight in the big final.
Contrary to expectations, Nadal made light work of the seventh seed. The 17-time Grand Slam champion broke Thiem early to go 2-0 up but the Austrian made a good comeback and broke back immediately.
Despite not landing his first serves and committing quite a lot of unforced errors (42 in the match), Thiem was able to keep things tense in the first set, thanks to his ability to hit forehand winners at will and control the baseline.
However, after breaking Thiem to go 5-4 up in the first set, Nadal put up a dominant display of tennis and never let his opponent control the rallies. Despite taking a brief medical timeout to treat cramps in his fingers, the 32-year-old was able to close out the match in three sets.
Meanwhile, Nadal expressed confidence that Thiem will win the Roland Garros in future and opined the Austrian is one of the players French Open needs.
"Well played Dominic. He played a great few weeks. He is one of these players the tournament needs. I am sure you will win her in the next couple of years. It was the best match of the tournament for him," the champion said.