It was a chastening experience for the Austrian 12 months ago as he collapsed to a straight sets defeat – 4-6 3-6 2-6 on Phillipe Chatrier as the Spanish player claimed another title on his favourite surface.
After a rain affected semi-final win over Novak Djokovic on Saturday, Thiem will be looking to get his hands on his first Grand Slam title, but it appears to be tough ask. Thiem is priced at 9-1 with Nadal 1-4 to claim his 12th title at the venue since 2005.
The Austrian fourth seed has made huge strides over the past couple of years and he is seen as one of the more likely players to challenge the established elite of Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer when they retire.
But how can Thiem make the breakthrough? We assess the three things Thiem must do if he is to emerge victorious at Roland Garros.
1. Be aggressive
Committing to shots and adopting an aggressive mindset is crucial. When Nadal is in full flow, he can wind up with a meaty forehand and demoralise players with his ability to work every angle on the court.
Last year, Thiem allowed Nadal to pick him off. While Nadal possesses the intimidation factor, Thiem simply has to try and push things without taking too many risks.
He has a fantastic clay court game and his ability to mix up drop shots as well as his lethal single handed backhand, makes him dangerous for any opponent.
After his win over Djokovic, Thiem said: “I’m feeling fine. I’m full of adrenaline, of course, still from today’s match, and also I will have that tomorrow. So I’m not going to be tired.
“It’s all going to come after the tournament. So I’m ready to leave all or everything what I have out on the court tomorrow.”
Thiem has to take the initiative and force mistakes as Nadal won’t allow him any cheap points.
2. Mix things up
Thiem has to be prepared to try new things. Nadal is quick at cottoning onto certain tactics, but the world No 4 has to keep the Spaniard guessing. If such a ploy is possible.
If that means serving out wide or down the ‘T’ or even wrong footing him, then that could work to his advantage.
Last year, Thiem let Nadal get on top of him early on. When Nadal has his opponent where he wants him, he can squeeze the life out of their game.
Executing of course is a very different matter, but being cute could see Thiem push the match longer than is forecase and unsettle Nadal. who must feel some tension being so close to an 18th major at the age of 33.
3. Disturb Nadal’s rhythm
When Nadal gets on a roll, it is very difficult to keep him at bay. Of course, playing a five setter is a different proposition to playing the world No 2 over three sets at any other clay court tournament.
Applying the pressure could force Nadal to revert to another game plan and 25-year-old Thiem is one of the few players on the ATP Tour that can damage Nadal on the red dirt.
Thiem, as mentioned, needs to take control early on and stop Nadal settling if he is to have any joy. Getting inside Nadal's head is arguably as important as disturbing his menacing gait.