Del Potro failed to capitalize on early advantage against Nadal: Wilander

Top seed Rafael Nadal Simona Halep cruise through to quarter-finals Serena Williams withdraws on Day 10 of French Open

Top seed Rafael Nadal Simona Halep cruise through to quarter-finals Serena Williams withdraws on Day 10 of French Open

"It is nearly impossible to beat Rafa", said Del Potro who had his chances but failed to convert any of his seven break points before his challenge petered out into tired hopelessness.

This was the No. 5-seeded del Potro's first semifinal at Roland Garros since 2009. Both in 2017 and 2018, the Austrian youngster was the only man to beat Nadal at a clay-court Masters tournament (although he went on to lose both to Alexander Zverev) and he is well aware of the fact.

The Spanish world number one edged a tight first set but then simply blew fifth seed Del Potro away.

Cecchinato brilliantly saved two break points at 2-2 in the second and continued to hold his own to reach a tie-break, where a series of sensational winners from both players saw Thiem let three successive set points slip.

Del Potro, playing in the semi finals here for the first time since losing to Roger Federer in 2009, was 0-40 ahead on Nadal's serve at 1-1 but could not press home the break and worryingly appeared to hurt his hip at deuce in that game.

As the only man to have beaten Rafael Nadal on clay over the past two seasons, Dominic Thiem knows he has the weapons and expertise to topple the 10-times champion in Sunday's French Open final.

Thiem defeated Cecchinato 7-5, 7-6 (12-10), 6-1 to reach his first French Open final.

"If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid. I have a plan".

Nadal will retain the world number one ranking if he wins - but that will be the last thing on his mind. "I was just focused and try to hold the situation and just trying to be positive on every point, no?" His last few seasons have been marked by inconsistency and injury, and Diego Schwartzman demonstrated that there are weaknesses to be exploited in Nadal's game.

"Even if it was 6-3 6-4, it was an uncomfortable match for me", Nadal said.


Truth is, there were not many the rest of the way, as Nadal finished with 35 winners and just 19 unforced errors.

He did not look unduly affected though and his heavy groundstrokes took a toll on Nadal who rescued three more break points in the ninth game.

The reason I limit the question to the Open Era is two-fold; one, the lack of opportunity in the Amateur Era and two, the lack of historical data for a lot of players of the past.

By the sixth game of the opener, Cecchinato had claimed just one point off the Austrian's serve.

Too good for almost everyone, nearly every time, on clay. He gave Nadal a sound beating in Madrid, and whilst that has never been Nadal's favourite tournament - with suggestions that the relative altitude makes the ball travel faster through the air, dulling Nadal's usual advantages on clay - I'm inclined to view it as a sign of a growing equality on clay between the two of them.

Thiem has been to the semifinals in Paris three years in a row, but he lost to eventual champions Novak Djokovic in 2016, then Nadal in 2017.

Rafael Nadal improved to 11-0 in French Open semifinals.

Cecchinato was understandably deflated - the third set lasted a mere 24 minutes - and Thiem officially booked his spot in the final, to his mother's delight.

So if anyone could head into the French Open final with even the slightest reason to think there's a chance of preventing Nadal from winning a record-extending 11th championship at Roland Garros, it is his opponent Sunday.

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