(CNN) -- Rafael Nadal came into the French Open with his air of invincibility punctured by recent defeats but his beaten opponent Thursday -- Austrian hopeful Dominic Thiem -- believes the eight-time champion is still the man to beat at this year's French Open.
The 20-year-old Thiem admits Nadal was "one of his idols" growing up but showed little sign of being overawed as he detained the top seed for over two hours on Philippe Chatrier before succumbing to a 6-2 6-2 6-3 defeat in their second round match.
But Thiem, the youngest man in the top 100 of the world rankings, currently occupying 57th spot, saw enough in Nadal's game to predict he will be holding the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy aloft on Sunday week.
"I think here in Roland Garros there are only a few man who can beat him, but yes he is the biggest favorite," Thiem told CNN.
Nadal suffered shock quarterfinal defeats in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and in last week's Rome final to Novak Djokovic, but Thiem believes he is an altogether different proposition at the clay court grand slam.
"He's in his element at his favorite venue and he's really pumped up," he said. "His top spin is really tough to counter and he didn't make a lot of mistakes."
After his victory, Nadal was also full of praise for his young opponent and applauded him off the court.
"He has completely everything to become a champion," he predicted. "He as able to hit the ball very strong from the backhand and the forehand."
Thiem, who beat Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round of the Madrid Masters earlier this year, admitted to "feeling a little bit nervous" as he walked out on to the center court at a grand slam for the first time,
"But fortunately I made a good start which helped a bit," he added.
He will now head to Queens Club in London to get grass court preparation ahead of Wimbledon, while Nadal will next play Leonardo Mayer of Argentina in the third round, seeking the 61st victory of his record breaking career at the French Open.
Even though he was expected to overcome Thiem, Nadal must have been slightly relieved as several big names have exited the tournament already.
They include women's number one and defending champion, Serena Williams, second-seed Li Na and Wawrinka -- the man Nadal lost to in the Australian Open final.
Elsewhere, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, and 2013 finalist David Ferrer, advanced with straight sets wins in the men's draw.
Murray led Nadal by a break in the third set at the Rome Masters earlier this month, only for the 13-time grand slam winner to rally.
They could meet again in the semifinals in Paris, although Murray must first get past Philipp Kohlschreiber in the next round.
Kohlschreiber won a clay-court title last weekend in his native Germany and crushed the Scot on clay in Monte Carlo in 2010 in their lone head-to-head.
In the women's tournament, fourth seed Simona Halep of Romania, tipped by many for grand slam glory soon, beat Heather Watson of Britain 6-2 6-4.
Serbian sixth seed Jelena Jankovic, who could directly benefit from the loss of Li Na in her section of the draw, continued her fine form in Paris with a 7-5 6-0 dismissal of Japan's Kurumi Nara.
Former world number one and French Open champion Ana Ivanovic also went though while Sloane Stephens kept American hopes high in the absence of the defeated Williams with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Polona Hercog of Slovenia.