Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Sport | By Billy Aguilar

Thiem for a change? Or same old Nadal script?

Thiem for a change? Or same old Nadal script?

But fast-forward 12 days and the affable Del Potro is preparing to take on 10-time champion Nadal in his first French Open semi-final since 2009.

Nadal, a 16-time Grand Slam champion, claimed his 85th win in Paris against just two losses after weathering a big-hitting opening from 2009 US Open victor Del Potro to win 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

"Ten years ago, it was Rafa and Roger, and now it's always the same".

Paris: Juan Martin del Potro believes it's virtually impossible to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay and backed the Spaniard to claim an 11th French Open title in Sunday's final against Dominic Thiem. "I'm going to play with my highest passion and love for the game, and for the sport, to try to have success".

The second set proved particularly tough before the dominance of the seventh seed eventually told against a player who had stunned Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

Thiem remained the only player to have defeated Nadal on clay prior to Roland Garros, winning the duel in the quarterfinals at ATP Madrid Masters, snapping Nadal's streak of 50 straight sets won on clay.

Nadal is 49-0 against everyone else on the surface over the past two years.

"When you don't take your chances against the No. 1 in the world, you are are in trouble", del Porto said. Nadal saved that second trio of break points Friday, held there, then broke in the next game to grab that set. "That's why he's the No. 1 and beating all the guys", Del Potro said.

- "He is fresh, healthy". "He looks fresh. He is healthy, and the strength that he has and the mentality, everything is ideal, works flawless for him playing on clay". "And the strength that he has and the mentality, everything is flawless, works ideal for him playing on clay".

French Open Simona Halep
Simona Halep celebrates her victory against Garbine Muguruza

"He is, for me, the best competitor I ever saw in any sport, and I watch sport a lot for many, many years", said Gunter Bresnik, Thiem's 57-year-old coach.

Del Potro had required treatment on a hip problem suffered early in the first set and he visibly wilted in the second, raising his arms in mock celebration when he won a solitary game while already 5-0 behind.

At least Thiem has in the past found the key to unraveling the Nadal clay court enigma.

He is the only man to beat the world number one on clay in the last two years - in Madrid this spring and in Rome last year.

Thiem went for the jugular in the third set and after racing to a 4-0 lead in double quick, he finished off the job to reach his first Grand Slam final.

The Spaniard was a set and a break down on Thursday morning before he regrouped and blazed through the last two sets on Friday morning (AEST) in a last-eight showdown played over two days due to rain.

Nadal acknowledged that Thiem has been a "very complex" opponent. "Still, I know how to play against him". "That's the only way for me to approach the tough moments". He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure.

Schwartzman, ranked at number 12 in the world, had four chances to break Nadal back in the third set, but the world number one displayed impeccable defense, armed with a thunderous top-spun forehand in exhilarating exchanges for a 2-1 set advantage. "I have a plan".

In Sunday's final, Thiem will face either No. 1 Nadal or No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro.

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