French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem says Rafael Nadal's feat of winning 11 titles at Roland Garros is one of the most awesome achievements in sports. Nadal's introduction included a year-by-year accounting of every time he'd already won the French Open.
Seventh seed Thiem is the first Austrian to make a final at the majors since Thomas Muster was champion in Paris in 1995.
"He beat me in Madrid and he has incredible power", said Nadal ahead of their French Open final.
If Thiem is, as he is widely regarded, the second best clay-court player in the world then he probably has a few more of these pummellings to look forward to at least until Nadal, 32, finally calls it a day.
The victor of 10 French, three US Open, two Wimbledon and one Australian Open titles has won 87 of his 89 matches at the French. 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, but said afterward it was not a big deal.
And Thiem appeared happy at the prospect of Nadal reaching the final, pointing out that, as the underdog, he would be able to play without fear.
This was not the case during the first two tight sets between the Thiem and Cecchinato. "I will try everything that my plan is going to work out a little bit here and not only in Madrid or in Rome".
"It was a tough first set with opportunities for Juan Martin, I am fortunate that I won the first set and then I played more aggressively", Nadal, who equals Roger Federer's feat of reaching the final of a single slam 11 times, said on court as fans chanted "Viva Espana". Good thing is I played a lot of good matches this clay-court season.
Del Potro saved one but a backhand error handed Nadal the set and he never took a backward glance after that.
Thiem‚ who was playing in his third successive French Open semi-final‚ admitted the second set had been a nervy encounter after needing five set points to get through it.
But Thiem, unusually standing up to Nadal's first serve, forced two break points in the next game and converted the second with a flashing forehand into the right corner. "I know he's a great player".
Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Juan Martin del Potro on Friday to reach his 11th French Open final.
Thiem used to hike through the Alps in his homeland as part of his training, but the 24-year-old had an even bigger mountain to climb now. This year they have met twice and split the wins, with Nadal destroying Thiem 6-0 6-2 in Monte Carlo and Thiem winning 7-5 6-3 in Madrid.
" If I lost that tie-break it would have been a very close match I think and I didn't want that".
Nadal acknowledged that Thiem has been a "very complex" opponent.
Thiem also defeated his rival in Buenos Aires in 2016, joining Novak Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio as the only men to have beaten Nadal three times on clay.
"Today, all day, on Philippe Chatrier, the fans said "Forza, Marco", so I think this is the best moment for me", said Cecchinato."Against Dominic Thiem, he is top 10, and today all the people were for me".