In Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal faces a new French Open challenge
Jun 12 2018 by Marjorie Miles
Del Potro said resuming a match at 5-5 in a tiebreak with his serve to come had been a odd situation but his aim was true and he moved 6-5 ahead before his cagey backhand slice induced a poor forehand error by Cilic.
"The big key was the second-set tie-break because it was very close and I saved I think three set points", said Thiem. "I lost a lot of opportunities for injuries, and I know the years are going quick".
How much prize money can each player earn at Roland Garros? "I just enjoy the fact that I am here again".
"Nadal is still playing at only seventy-five per cent efficiency and that, still, is good enough for him to beat tough opponents like Juan Martin del Potro".
"He's an incredible player", Nadal said of Thiem. Facing a rampaging Rafael Nadal on clay is a threat any day, but on the terre battue of Court Philippe Chatrier is akin to running with the bulls.
Del Potro's play this tournament, plus his history against Nadal - the fifth seed won two of their three previous duels and was the last foe to down the Mallorcan in a grand slam semifinal in 2009 - suggested a close tilt. "Nadal's capable of keeping this very aggressive, high-intensity level over an unbelievably long period of time".
Relentless Nadal broke to love at the start of the third, and as he moved on to match point an exhausted Del Potro paused for breath, bent double, as if he had been punched in the stomach.
The giant Argentine was expected to push Nadal to the limit in Friday's semi-final but slumped to a 6-4 6-1 6-2 defeat with the world No 1 reeling off 14 of the last 17 games.
A fourth set point for Thiem vanished because of one of Cecchinato's many drop shots.
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As for what sort of tactics will be employed Sunday, Nadal's coach, Carlos Moya, offered a hint.
"Once he gets ahead in the match, his confidence gets back", said Moya, the 1998 French Open champion. It's something we're aware of, it just happened in the last couple of matches, it's not something that is happening very often with him.
Nadal, who is only the second man to reach 11 finals at one Grand Slam after Roger Federer achieved the same feat at Wimbledon, said: "The first set was very hard, there were lots of opportunities for Del Potro and I was perhaps a little lucky to win it".
His decision to enter a smaller tournament in Lyon, France, the week before Roland Garros - an event he won - doesn't appear to have sapped him.
Serving for the match Del Potro was given an easy ride as Cilic blazed three backhands in succession long.
Once Nadal stole the opener with a break in the 10th game, it was one-way traffic as he left Del Potro trailing in a cloud of Parisian clay dust to set up a final against Dominic Thiem.
Nadal compiled a 35-20 edge in winners while making only 19 unforced errors against del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion.
One of those victories came against Thiem in last year's semi-final and was, if anything, more comprehensive than this one. The Italian succumbed quickly in the third set, sparing the French Open from a final in which his past match-fixing case would have been rehashed under a global spotlight.
Thiem is looking to become only the second Austrian player - man or woman - to win a Grand Slam title after Thomas Muster's French Open victory in 1995. He is in the age of improvement. So there was mild concern when Nadal called for the trainer midway through a game, requiring treatment on what looked like cramp in his hand.