Thiem stands between Nadal and his 11th French Open title

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

So if anyone could head into the French Open final with even the slightest reason to think there's a chance of preventing Nadal from winning a record-extending 11th championship at Roland Garros, it is his opponent Sunday. Both men knew that full well.

Del Potro, the US Open victor in 2009, is playing the tournament for only the second time since 2012 after a spate of injuries.

But those are not quite the same as the French Open, where Nadal is 86-2 for his career. He doesn't cede a thing and he doesn't let up.

Thiem's fighting spirit was evident in abundance - he continued to put pressure on Nadal through his return game, while consistently scrapping to stave off perilous positions on his own serve - but ultimately the Spaniard's quality and, often, his sheer force of will, won the day.

Del Potro's play this tournament, plus his history against Nadal - the fifth seed won two of their three previous duels and was the last foe to down the Mallorcan in a grand slam semifinal in 2009 - suggested a close tilt.

On Sunday, Nadal will face No 7 seed Dominic Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian who reached his first Grand Slam final by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1. "I know he's a great player". I have a plan.

Surely, so did del Potro.

What went through Nadal's mind right then?

"I came here without big expectations, just seeing how my body feels match by match".

"It may sound easy and logical, but I don't want it to be". If he wins the game, OK.

The world number one goes in search of Roland Garros title number 11 against Dominic Thiem of Austria on Sunday. He missed the tournament every year from 2013-16 because of injuries, including three operations on his left wrist.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal

Soon enough, he was yelling at himself, a picture of exasperation thanks to Nadal's relentless ball-tracking and shotmaking.

"Today‚ all day‚ on Philippe Chatrier‚ the fans said "Forza‚ Marco"‚ so I think this is the best moment for me‚" said Cecchinato. "His game is too good for me".

The "King of Clay" regrouped himself on Thursday and wrapped up the match at 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Cecchinato was understandably deflated - the third set lasted a mere 24 minutes - and Thiem officially booked his spot in the final, to his mother's delight.

The seventh seed, the first Austrian man to reach a Grand Slam final since Thomas Muster triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995, is the only player to beat Nadal on his favourite surface this season. He appears poised to take home a title-win at the French Open at some point and this year could be it.

In Saturday's women's final, No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania will face No. 10 Sloane Stephens of the United States.

Nadal becomes the second player in tennis history to win 11 singles titles at any Grand Slam tournament after Margaret Court, who claimed 11 Australian Open titles.

"Not a very nice feeling", Thiem said.

This was not the case during the first two tight sets between the Thiem and Cecchinato.

Increasingly frustrated at Cecchinato's resistance, Thiem lost his composure completely in the second set.

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