Ruthless Rafael Nadal punishes Juan Martin del Potro in semi-final

Ruben Holloway
June 13, 2018

The fifth seed‚ playing in his first Roland Garros semi-final in nine years‚ had three break points in the third game and three more in the ninth.

Thiem went through one pivotal stretch against Cecchinato (cheh-key-NAH'-toe), a 25-year-old from Sicily who never had won a Grand Slam match until this tournament and was the lowest-ranked men's semifinalist at the clay-court major in 19 years.

If Austrian Dominic Thiem does win on Sunday in what will be his first Grand Slam final he will join Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling as the only two players to down Nadal on his favourite claycourt battleground.

The world No. 8 made history of his own Friday, becoming the second Austrian male to advance to a grand slam final after the hard-nosed 1995 French Open champion, Thomas Muster.

Thiem beat Nadal in Madrid Open in May and has been the second best player during the clay season.

Romania's Simona Halep returns the ball to Spain's Garbine Muguruza during their women's singles semi-final match on day twelve of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 7, 2018. "He beat me in Madrid‚ he has big power so I have to be at my best and improve‚" said Nadal.

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Yet despite lagging behind on the size of its winner's paycheque, the French Open is more generous overall than both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Play has since resumed and Nadal now leads 4-2 in the third set.

A fourth set point for Thiem was erased with - what else? - a drop shot by Cecchinato.

But once a competive first set went the way of the world number one, the plan became damage limitation and Nadal's "undecima" never looked in any doubt.

Schwartzman, who came back from two sets down to beat Kevin Anderson in the last 16, rediscovered his form, but it came too late to save the set as Nadal served it out in a marathon eighth game on his second set point after saving four break points.

"I have done a lot of things well in the clay court season, but I believe I can be ready for the final".

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He added: "For me, the level is very good at the moment".

Nadal is 85-2 for his French Open career, 110-2 in all best-of-fives on clay.

Had Cecchinato not tightened in the second set, when he held three set points, it might have been a different result.

Thiem used to hike through the Alps in his homeland as part of his training, but the 24-year-old had an even bigger mountain to climb now.

Del Potro will be his opponent on Friday after eliminating No. 3 seed Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 to make into the semifinals for the first time since 2009.

However, having squandered one set point, he went in for a simple backhand volley victor only to dump it into the net. Because being No. 1 without a Grand Slam, I always said, is not like everything, not 100 percent.

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"It was a really close tiebreak and I didn't want that especially after I missed an easy volley at 6/4". Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.

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