French Open | Rafael Nadal into final with win over Juan Martin del Potro
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Top seed Rafael Nadal will bid for a record-extending 11th French Open title after breezing past fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals.
Nadal, 32, won 6-4 6-1 6-2 to set up a meeting with Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s final.
The Spaniard, who has only lost twice in 87 matches at Roland Garros, beat the Argentine in just over two hours.
Nadal is only the second man after Roger Federer to reach 11 finals at the same Grand Slam.
“I am very happy to be back in the final here at Roland Garros. For me it’s incredible,” said Nadal.
“It’s impossible without hard work and going through tough moments.
“You have to be focused and keep your passion for the game. I never dreamed in 2005 when I played my first final here that I would be in another one.”
Thiem, 24, will contest his first major final after beating unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato in straights sets earlier on Friday.
World number one Nadal was the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite to win an event he has dominated since making his debut as a teenager in 2005.
Little evidence has been presented over the past fortnight to suggest he will not add another Coupe des Mousquetaires to his collection.
He has dropped just one set so far – at the start of his quarter-final win against Diego Schwartzman – and crushed 2009 US Open champion Del Potro in dominant fashion.
Every bit of his ruthless streak was evident as he turned what was an even opening set into a procession of a victory.
After nicking the first set with a break in the final game, Nadal cracked 13 winners and allowed Del Potro just 16 points in a second set lasting only half an hour.
“He was serving big and hitting the first shots strong. It was very difficult to stop that,” Nadal said.
“I was not serving that well and I was not creating spaces on the court.
“When I started playing really well and with more intensity, I managed to win the two sets.”
The pressure continued to tell on the Argentine, who failed to win a point in the opening two games of the third set.
Still Nadal pressed, with blistering forehand winners flowing, breaking again for a 4-1 lead and sealing victory three games later with an easy hold.
Now he will face Thiem – the only player to beat him on clay in the past two years – in Sunday’s final.
Both of Thiem’s victories came in three-set matches in Rome and Madrid, but sustaining it over five sets in Paris is likely to be a different proposition.
“If Rafa plays at this level and is healthy, it will be very difficult to stop him winning this tournament,” said Del Potro.
“He’s too strong and he’s improving his backhand a lot. He looks fresh and he’s healthy.
“And the strength that he has and the mentally, everything is perfect, works perfect for him playing in clay.”
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Del Potro pays the price for missed chances
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.
He almost quit the sport because of wrist problems but he has fought back and reached his first semi-final at Roland Garros since 2009.
Having never beaten the Spaniard on his favoured surface, it felt like he needed to seize the opening set to maximise his chances of causing an upset.
Del Potro edged the early exchanges even though the scoreboard showed parity, testing Nadal on his service games and earning six break points as a result.
But he was unable to convert any – and it proved his undoing.
Nadal fought them off – three at 1-1 and three more at 4-4 – then took the set with only his second break point when Del Potro slammed a backhand into the net.
Del Potro missed another chance at 2-0 in the second set and from that point there was only going to be one winner.
“I had a lot of break points but I couldn’t make it,” said Del Potro. “Rafa served well and he made me run a lot.
“The intensity was too high the whole match, and I couldn’t stay there. He deserved to win.”