On a very one-sided semifinal Friday at the French Open, both favorites rolled to victory setting up Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem title match on Sunday.
Under comfortable blue skies, Thiem opened the afternoon up against the surprise semifinalist Marco Cecchinato who had stunned Novak Djokovic on Tuesday. In this first tour meeting, Thiem jumped out early in the first two sets, and while the Italian fought back each time, the World No. 8 was just too tough, had too much variety and experience to win it 7-5, 7-6(10), 6-1.
After two semifinal runs the last two years, Thiem is finally into his first Grand Slam final.
“The second set tie-break was the big key to the match, 100 percent, because obviously he felt all the matches from the past two weeks after that,” said Thiem. “If he would have won the tie-break, he would [have been] full power, for sure, in the third set. So it was good for me that I won it… I expect that he will be a really good player on clay. You don’t get to a Grand Slam semi-final by accident. He beat really good players.”
Cecchinato did have chances in that second set breaker, but could force the issue in the end, then all but got steamrolled in the third. Still, the 25-year-old will move from No. 72 in the world up to the Top 30 and earn a seeding at Wimbledon. Not bad for a guy who had never won a Grand Slam match two weeks ago.
“It was a special tournament for me. I played two sets at the same level [as Djokovic] against Dominic Thiem,” Checcinato said. “[MMy] level is very good at the moment [and] I am very, very happy. If I had won the second set, I think it would have been totally different the third set. But after the loss, I go a little bit down mentally and physically… Today was unbelievable for me, with all of Philippe Chatrier Court full.”
Up next was the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal against Juan Martin del Potro in a rematch of their US Open semifinal which went the way of the Spaniard. So too did this one as del Potro mounted a fierce first 30 minutes or so then faded away losing 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
Del Potro actually have several break chances in the first with 0-30 and 0-40 leads on Rafa’s serve, but ended the set 0-for-7. And the Argentine appeared to tweak his hip area early in the match, but thankfully it wasn’t as serious as it first appeared.
Nadal got the break at 4-all in the first, and with del Potro having spent over 2-and-a-half hours on court yesterday in a win over Marin Cilic, he was cooked. Nadal won his 16th straight Grand Slam semifinal, and he’s now an incredible 24-3 at this stage in Slams.
“It was a good second and third set for me, of course, and a good hold in the first. [I had] good tactics and [a good] mentality in the first set,” Nadal said. “That gave me the possibility to play much better later on the match.”
Del Potro rued missing those early opportunities.
“Rafa served well, played good points on those break points, and I got unlucky in that moment,” del Potro said. “It could have been a different match if I won the first set. But then he made me run a lot. [The] intensity was too high the whole match, and I couldn’t stay there after the first set. He deserved to win. He played much better from the beginning until the end.
“I did a beautiful tournament, better than expected,” he added. “Losing against Rafa on his best surface, his best court, I’m quite relaxed about that.”
So on Sunday, in Thiem, Nadal will meet the only man who has beaten him on clay since the start of last year. It will be their 10th meeting with all 10 on clay and Nadal holding the 6-3 edge including a semifinal rout last year at the French.
Nadal has never lost in the semifinals or the final in Paris. And he’s won 15 straight matches at the event with an overall record of 85-2.
“You know when you start the clay court season that Dominic, he’s one of these players that have the chance to win every tournament that he’s playing,” said Nadal. “And maybe even more here in Roland Garros because he’s strong physically. He has the power.
“He’s been a very complex opponent. He’s in the final, and he had a tough draw.”
Said Thiem, “My feeling is on Sunday I have a very difficult match against a player that is playing great… I know I have to play my best if I want to have chances. Sunday is the day to give my best, is the day to increase even a little bit more the level. I hope to be ready to do it.”
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