'A little hope': Nadal vs Thiem in French Open final
13 June, 2018, 08:56 | Author: Amy Huff
Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday qualified for the semifinals of the French Open after he defeated Marin Cilic of Croatia 7-6, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in a two-day rain-delayed match.
Only two players have managed to beat Nadal at the French Open since he first bounded into Roland Garros in 2005 armed with a bulging left bicep, pirate trousers and a pulverising brand of claycourt tennis the like of which had not been seen before.
This time, Thiem instead faced Cecchinato, 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.
Seventh seed Thiem, who will be playing in his first grand slam final, is regarded as second only to Nadal on clay - albeit probably quite a distant second.
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.
In full control of the French Open final, a rather familiar position for him, Rafael Nadal suddenly was anxious.
"If I want to beat him", Thiem said, "I have to play that way".
If that gave him hope ahead of their fourth meeting of 2017 in the French Open semifinals, it was quickly dispelled in a 3-6 4-6 0-6 loss.
World 72 Cecchinato had knocked out three seeded players to reach the semi-finals, including 12-time major victor Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Thiem's ability to bully opponents from the baseline was on display in his 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals.
Nadal beats Thiem for 11th French Open title
Nadal needed five match points in a tense final game, eventually completing the job when Thiem fired a backhand long. Stream every match at Roland Garros live on the FOX+ app and catch up on highlights of any action you've missed.
It was the first time in three years that Nadal had dropped a set in Paris.
Nadal has not lost at Roland Garros when taking the first set and that record did not look like coming under threat as he continually rebuffed Thiem's attempts to make inroads into his serve, taking the second courtesy of an early break.
"To beat Nadal in Paris, on the center court in the finals, I think this is, it's not impossible, but it's maybe one of the biggest (challenges) you can have in tennis".
"That", del Potro would say later, "was my chance". Nadal saved that second trio of break points Friday, held there, then broke in the next game to grab that set. But I know how to play against him.
There was a sense of inevitability in the air when Del Potro served at 4-5 and sure enough Nadal turned the screws to grab two set points at 15-40. "Being in a final here is something I should rejoice about and be happy about", he said.
It is the 11th time the 32-year-old Spaniard has reached the French Open last four, becoming only the third man in history to achieve the feat at a Grand Slam tournament, after Jimmy Connors at the US Open and Roger Federer at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
"I think that was my chance of the match", Del Potro said of the ninth game.
"It was not a very nice feeling", Thiem said.
However, having squandered one set point, he went in for a simple backhand volley victor only to dump it into the net.
The 25-year-old was banned for match-fixing in 2016, a penalty overturned on appeal.
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