Nadal beats del Potro to reach 11th French final

Rafael Nadal leaving court

Both men knew that full well.

Rafa is in search of his 11th career French Open title and 17th Grand Slam singles title overall, while Thiem will play in his first Grand Slam final.

The 11th-seeded Schwartzman appeared to have done his homework well as he dominated the early exchanges to bag the opening set: an achievement in itself as it was the first one Nadal had lost at Roland Garros since 2015.

"For me, the motivation to play here always is high, high as possible".

"But I have a plan".

Del Potro, 29, is a popular figure among tennis fans, with affection for him growing further as a result of the catalogue of injuries he has suffered in recent years. If he wins the game, OK.

Ominously, perhaps, for Thiem, Nadal said: "I have to improve a little bit". But I'm also aware that here it's tougher. Against Cecchinato, he had six aces and 37 winners to just 26 errors.

Nadal won the French Open on his debut as a 19-year-old and came into this year's event with a 79-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros.

"It was someone who made a loud [sound] before my serve, and I made [a] double fault", Del Potro said.

Soon enough, he was yelling at himself, a picture of exasperation thanks to Nadal's relentless ball-tracking and shotmaking.

"If I'm facing Rafa, I'm not the one who has the pressure", he said. I have to play my best. And when things change and you have good moments, it's time to enjoy them and to recognise that you're having good times. "Best of five is also different story". Cecchinato will battle hard without a doubt, but look for Thiem to hold his nerve and continue his run on clay. It may sound easy and logical, but I don't want it to be.

Nadal and Thiem will face off on Sunday at a 9 a.m. ET to close the French Open.

Interestingly, Del Potro has never won a match on clay when priced in excess of [3.0], with his last outing ending in straight sets (and a final set bagel) at the hands of Andy Murray at this venue in 2017, so he will have to reverse this history, not to mention a 3-0 clay head-to-head deficit as well, to make Sunday's final.

The former US Open champion, who nearly retired from the sport two years ago after persistent wrist injuries, had said he would make a "last-minute decision" on his Roland Garros participation after suffering a leg injury at the Rome Masters.

In the clay court season, Nadal has already picked up his 11th title at the Monte-Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open and an eighth trophy at the Italian Open. Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.

Facing set point as he trailed 9-10, Thiem audaciously sliced a backhand drop-shot victor.

The unheralded Cecchinato simply being here is freakish for a number of reasons, not least his 10-8 final set success over Marius Copil in the first round, a match which lasted nearly four hours.

Del Potro found the breakthrough at 5-5 in a tight fourth set, when Cilic sent a backhand long to give him a break and he went on to serve out the match.

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