He doesn't cede a thing and he doesn't let up. The second set like, the first was dominated by serve until Cilic fired himself up to break at 4-4 - a furious Del Potro throwing his racket at the changeover.
Nadal was broken three times and lost the opening set of his quarterfinal Wednesday against 11th-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina by a score of 6-4.
The No. 7-seeded Thiem reached the first Grand Slam final of his career by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy at Roland Garros with a powerful performance in a 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 victory Friday. "I have a plan".
And yet, insists Nadal: "I just go on court knowing that every match is hard, and I can lose and I can win".
"It's not easy. I've been on court just a couple of minutes ago". And now I don't have any words to describe this moment. If he wins the game, OK.
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The Serb has a deal of work to do to get back to the stratospheric levels he reached before his right elbow gave up on him so spectacularly a year ago. But I'm also aware that here it's tougher. Against Cecchinato, he had six aces and 37 winners to just 26 errors. He missed the tournament every year from 2013-16 because of injuries, including three operations on his left wrist.
The world number one not only seems to have an inexhaustible supply of energy to keep on going in a best-of-five-set-match on clay but his topspin forehand is also favored by the Paris conditions. Robin Söderling, one of two players to beat him at Roland Garros (alongside Djokovic), made that call earlier in the week, and he should know.
Del Potro insisted his hip had not troubled him during the match, instead putting the defeat down to one simple fact: "His game is too good for me". "It has been a long time without good feelings. Although he can lose matches, but the way he plays suits clay courts very well". The most recent meeting was in this years Rome Masters, a match Thiem won in straight sets.
"Maybe the experience helped a little bit but the big key was the second set tie-break because it was very close and I saved I think three set points", said Thiem.
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In Saturday's women's final, No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania will face No. 10 Sloane Stephens of the United States. Stephens won last year's US Open; Halep is 0-3 in major finals.
Thiem is not only trying to overcome Nadal's massive psychological and experiential edge in his first-ever Grand Slam event final, but attempting to join an elite club of men who have elbowed their way into the Big Four's monopoly on major titles over the last 10 years.
Cecchinato's career has been tainted by his involvement in a match-fixing scandal; he was banned for 18 months in 2016 before having the suspension overturned.
A fourth set point for Thiem was erased with - what else? - a drop shot by Cecchinato.
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Thiem weathered three set points for Cecchinato, at 7-6, 9-8 and 10-9.