In youthful Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal faces a new French Open challenge


Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro felled Marin Cilic in a French Open clash of the titans, winning 7-6 (5) 5-7 6-3 7-5 on Thursday, and will now aim his heavy artillery at 10-times champion Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.

Nadal saved three break points at 1-all in the opening set and another three at 4-all.

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

The Spaniard needed just over two hours to take down the Argentine en route to another French Open final with Thiem waiting in the wings.

The problem for Del Potro might be his backhand which has lost a little sting since his wrist surgeries. And from tomorrow on, I will do what I have to do to get ready for Sunday. Nadal finished with 35 winners for the match, and Martin del Potro had his serve broken five times while never breaking Nadal's.

He was hitting deeper into the corners than on Wednesday and Schwartzman was left to rue the match's first rain break that stopped the competition when he was leading 3-2 in the second set with a break.

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

Thiem has beaten Nadal on clay in each of the past two seasons, including just a few weeks ago on clay in Madrid, so that will certainly boost his confidence. However, he was beaten in the most recent - the US Open semi-final previous year - and has lost nine of their 14 matches overall.

The first semi-final was between Thiem and surprise semifinalist, Marco Cecchinato, and it was a hard fought match with the first two sets setting the court alight.

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From the moment Nadal took the second set, it looked unlikely Schwartzman would earn a first win in six attempts against the man at whose academy he had trained.

"I couldn't play my best because of him", said del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion.

Nadal will be chasing his 11th singles title on Sunday night (AEST), if rain does not push the final to next week. "But I think he's very enthusiastic".

The 2018 French Open men's final is officially set, as top-seeded Rafael Nadal and No. 7 Dominic Thiem were victorious in their semifinal matches on Friday. Even though Nadal hasn't been playing his best all tournament he's still getting through; I expect it to be no different against Del Potro. I have to play my best.

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. Everybody, including Thiem on Friday, chatters about what a terrible chore it must be to beat him in best-of-five.

Cecchinato's career has been tainted by his involvement in a match-fixing scandal; he was banned for 18 months in 2016 before having the suspension overturned.

The drop shots that helped account for Djokovic kept Thiem on his toes throughout, but once the pivotal tie-break went the seventh seed's way Cecchinato's unlikely run was all but over. I'm not sure. He throws in matches sometimes so he might not play his best.

"That was definitely the key to the match", Cecchinato said.