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09 June 2018, 08:31 | Tracey Rhodes
GETTYRafael Nadal is rumoured to be struggling with a stomach injury
Nadal saved three break points at 1-all in the opening set and another three at 4-all.
Nadal has been untroubled en route to the semis, apart from a blip in the quarter-finals against Diego Schwartzman, but the towering Del Potro looms large on Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday.
Nadal or Del Potro's opponent will be known in advance of their match, with Marco Cecchinato'srun from nowhere seeing him take on Dominic Thiem in the other semi-final.
Yesh: It has been nearly a decade since del Potro made the semifinals here. The vanquished del Potro acknowledged as much as he reflected on the brief stretch where he was able to put up some resistance to Nadal's unremitting intensity.
The 11th-seeded Schwartzman appeared to have done his homework well as he dominated the early exchanges to bag the opening set: an achievement in itself as it was the first one Nadal had lost at Roland Garros since 2015.
"He's a big favourite against everybody", Thiem said.
Del Potro has looked one of the biggest threats to Nadal's domination this year, with his pulverising forehand dismantling everyone in his path on the Parisian clay.
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. I always hear from players that in a match they will do it differently, but if you don't practice that way, you are not going to do it in the heat of the battle.
The former US Open champion, who nearly retired from the sport two years ago after persistent wrist injuries, had said he would make a "last-minute decision" on his Roland Garros participation after suffering a leg injury at the Rome Masters.
The victor will play either seventh seed Dominic Thiem, who appears in his third straight semi-final in Paris or Italian Marco Cecchinato, who will hope to continue his dream run having beaten former champion Novak Djokovic in the last round. Only one of his wins at Roland Garros this year has been decided via straight sets, but a common theme seems to be that he's got better as matches have got longer.
"If I'd won the second set I think it is totally different, the third set", he said.
Nadal will face Thiem in Sunday's final, which is Nadal's 11th at Roland Garros and Thiem's first in any major.
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Still, Kent Desormeaux's tentative ride on Big Brown - the jockey pulled up the uninjured horse in the stretch - was baffling. All Spring I was entralled with a horse who had run once or twice in his life, but had shown remarkable talent on the track.
Such is his motivation to win his 17th Grand Slam on Sunday, that the task facing Austrian 24-year-old Thiem was described as "almost impossible" by Del Potro.
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. "Still, I know how to play against him".
"I am a human person", Nadal said following his 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory. Everybody, including Thiem on Friday, chatters about what a awful chore it must be to beat him in best-of-five.
A fourth set point for Thiem vanished because of one of Cecchinato's many drop shots. We expect a better Thiem for sure than the one we met a year ago. "So I have nothing to lose tomorrow", he had said, after subduing third seed Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in the quarters.
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