Tennis

Rafael Nadal reaches record 11th French Open final

Rafael Nadal improved to 11-0 in French Open semifinals as he seeks his 11th title at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament, saving all seven break points he faced and overwhelming 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

Will play 1st-time Grand Slam finalist Dominic Thiem on Sunday

Rafael Nadal celebrates his straight sets win over Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on Friday. Only Austrian Dominic Thiem stands in the way of his 11th French Open title. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal improved to 11-0 in French Open semifinals as he seeks his 11th title at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament, saving all seven break points he faced and overwhelming 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

The No. 1-ranked Nadal compiled a 35-20 edge in winners while making only 19 unforced errors Friday.

French Open Wrap: Nadal, Thiem to meet in French Open final

4 years ago
Duration 1:53
World number one Rafael Nadal beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, while Dominic Thiem beat Marco Cecchinato 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 in the men's semifinals.

Nadal saved three break points at 1-all in the opening set and another three at 4-all. After holding there, Nadal broke del Potro to take that set and was on his way, taking 14 of the last 17 games.

This was the No. 5-seeded del Potro's first semifinal at Roland Garros since 2009. He missed the tournament every year from 2013-16 because of injuries, including three operations on his left wrist. In the fourth game Friday, del Potro clutched at his left hip after being wrong-footed by one shot from Nadal and was visited by a doctor at the next changeover.

First time for Thiem

Dominic Thiem finally got to face someone other than Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals, and he took full advantage.

The No. 7-seeded Thiem reached the first Grand Slam final of his career by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy at Roland Garros with a powerful performance in a 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 victory Friday.

It was the 24-year-old Austrian's third consecutive appearance in the final four at Roland Garros, after losses to eventual champions Djokovic in 2016 and Nadal in 2017.

Cinderella story

This time, Thiem instead faced Cecchinato, 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. Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.

After dropping the first two sets he played in the opening round, Cecchinato came back to win that match in five sets, then proceeded to string together upsets. He beat No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round and No. 8 David Goffin in the fourth before stunning 12-time major champion Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

But Checchinato could not quite keep up with Thiem and his big baseline game. Cecchinato made some headway by repeatedly using drop shots, but Thiem eventually started tracking them down well.

The pivotal part of the match was the second-set tiebreaker in which both men played superbly — and both had chances to end it. Thiem went ahead 6-3, but wasted three set points there, including a bad volley into the net at 6-4 that left him chewing ruefully on his left index finger.

"It was not a very nice feeling," Thiem told the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd afterward.

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

Thiem had to weather three set points for Cecchinato, at 7-6, 9-8 and 10-9. Thiem got to 10-all with a drop shot of his own.

At long last, Thiem converted his fifth set point when Cecchinato sent a forehand long. The third set was dominated by Thiem, who raced to a 4-0, two-break lead in 12 minutes.

Of that set, Thiem said: "If I had lost it, it would have been a very close match. The big key was this set."

Nadal vs. Thiem

Thiem is the only player to beat Nadal on red clay over the past two seasons. Nadal is 49-0 against everyone else on his preferred surface in 2017 and 2018.

Nadal becomes 11-0 in semifinal matches at the French Open; he's closing in on his record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros and what would be his 17th major trophy in all.

Meanwhile, Thiem reaches a Grand Slam final for the first time in his career.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now