PARIS (Reuters) - Defending champion Rafael Nadal powered past Argentine Juan Martin del Potro 6-4 6-1 6-2 on Friday to reach the French Open final for the 11th time.
Nadal faced a tough test in a tight opening set but Del Potro’s challenge fizzled out in the next two as he failed to convert break point opportunities in decisive moments.
“Juan Martin had a lot of opportunities and I was a little bit lucky to win it,” Nadal said.
“Without working hard and without going through tough moments and without still being focused on your passion of the game, it is impossible to be here... still being here is something I never dreamed about.”
Nadal, a 10-times winner at Roland Garros, will be the firm favourite to extend his record in Paris when he plays Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the title clash on Sunday.
Thiem produced a flawless performance to seal a 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1 victory over Marco Cecchinato and end the run of the unheralded Italian.
The seventh seed also became the first Austrian man to reach the final in a major since Thomas Muster triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995.
Highlights from day 13 of the French Open tennis championships on Friday (times GMT):
A rampant Rafa Nadal eased past Juan Martin del Potro in the third set to win 6-4 6-1 6-2 and reach the 24th Grand Slam final of his career.
The Spaniard extended his lead over Novak Djokovic (21) on the list for most final appearances in a major in the professional era. Roger Federer heads the list (30).
Nadal faces Dominic Thiem in the final on Sunday.
The experience that comes with being the world number one has helped Simona Halep approach Saturday’s title clash against Sloane Stephens a little differently, the Romanian said.
“I’m a little bit different because I have more experience. I’m more relaxed about this situation,” said Halep, a finalist at the Australian Open earlier this year.
“So I feel good. I feel great in this position. Hopefully tomorrow I will be better than previous ones.
“But you never know. Every match is different and I cannot expect anything for tomorrow. I expect myself to give everything I have and to try to play my best tennis.”
1355 HOZUMI-NINOMIYA THROUGH TO WOMEN’S DOUBLES FINAL
The Japanese pair Eri Hozumi and Makato Ninomiya cruised past Taiwan’s Hao-Ching Chan and Zhaoxuan Yang of China 6-2 6-2 to reach the women’s doubles final.
Dominic Thiem made short work of the third set against an exhausted Marco Cecchinato to seal a 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1 win. Thiem, the number seven seed, became the first Austrian man to reach a Grand Slam final since Thomas Muster triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995.
“I think the key was the second set because it was a close tiebreak,” said Thiem.
“It’s very important to regenerate, have a good breakfast tomorrow. I’ll study my opponent... and then full power on Sunday.”
1224 PAVIC-MARACH THROUGH TO MEN’S DOUBLES FINAL
Second seeds Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic beat the Spanish pair of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez 6-4 7-5 to advance to the men’s doubles final. They face the French duo of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in the title clash.
American Sloane Stephens said she was not feeling any pressure ahead of Saturday’s title clash at Roland Garros against world number one Simona Halep.
“I just try to go day to day, take it moment by moment. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. That’s the easiest way to compete, when you’re not thinking about too many things,” the U.S. Open champion, who is seeking her second major, said.
“I just try to stay relaxed in myself and enjoy it. Because obviously if you’re struggling with things and you’re not happy, it makes it more difficult to have good results or success.”
Order of Play: Halep faces Stephens for title
Thiem has plan for Nadal in French Open final
Ruthless Nadal crushes Del Potro to reach final
‘Federer’s decision to skip Paris hurts tennis’
Cecchinato vows to prove semi-final no fluke
Halep hoping to be fourth-time lucky
Thiem ends Cecchinato’s run to reach final
Same routine, different result, hopes Halep
Compiled by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge/Jon Boyle/Susan Fenton/Larry King/Pritha Sarkar