By Ros Satar, in Paris
- Rafael Nadal  v Dominic Thiem 
- H2H: Nadal leads 6-3
PARIS, FRANCE – Rafael Nadal will go for an 11th Roland Garros title, and standing in his way is perhaps the Crown Prince of Clay to Nadal’s kingly claim, Dominic Thiem.
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While there might be an air of inevitability that we find ourselves with Rafael Nadal in the finals once more at the French Open, we might just be seeing him clash with the heir apparent, Dominic Thiem, on Sunday.
Rafael Nadal – Path to Roland Garros Final
- R1: Simone Bolelli [LL] 6-4 6-3 7-6(9)
- R2: Guido Pella 6-2 6-1 6-1
- R3: Richard Gasquet  6-3 6-2 6-2
- R4: Maximilian Marterer 6-3 6-2 7-6(4)
- QF: Diego Schwartzman  4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2
- SF: Juan Martin Del Potro  6-4 6-1 6-2
The story of the top half of the draw has largely been who (if anyone) could stop Nadal en route to an unprecedented 11th title at Roland Garros. Diego Schwartzman had a good try – being the only man to take a set off Nadal (for the first time since 2015) but the rains saved Nadal and scuppered the plucky Argentine.
It was as much to hope that Juan Martin Del Potro, who had looked decidedly iffy to make an appearance here, would have to be close to his stellar form in 2009 which took him to his first (and only) Slam title.
Despite what looked like a tweak to his hip early in the first set, he ends this tournament feeling healthy – which is a bonus as the grass court season approaches.
As always, Nadal played down his mantle of King of Clay, instead focussing on the challenges posed by his opponent:
“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.
“Good thing is I played a lot of good matches this clay court season. So 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. That’s the goal.”
Dominic Thiem – Path to Roland Garros Final
- R1: Ilya Ivashka [Q] 6-2 6-4 6-1
- R2: Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-4
- R3: Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2
- R4: Kei Nishikori  6-2 6-0-5-7 6-4
- QF: Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-2 6-1
- SF: Marco Checchinato 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1
Into his first Grand Slam final, Thiem efficiently ended the run of Marco Cecchinato in quite dramatic form, as it happens. At the start it looked as though he had the measure of the Italian but maybe took his feet off the gas a little too soon to give his opponent a look once more in the first set. Thiem broke back once more and served out the first set.
More drama was to come after a competitive set but there were more thrills and spills to come in the tie-break with the Italian fielding three set points of his own to Thiem’s five before he established a lead of two sets.
He effectively romped home and progressed to his first Slam final, having largely flown under the radar until he took out No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals. So much focus had been on the German, that Thiem was largely untroubled to this point.
Rafael Nadal  v Dominic Thiem  | H2H: Nadal leads 6-3
Thiem struck a blow in his latest win over Nadal (every one of their encounters has been on clay), in Madrid. It is an environment that Nadal is less happy with – the altitude makes the balls fly and less is under his control.
He said: “For sure I can take some things off that. If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid. But I’m also aware that here it’s tougher. He likes the conditions more here than in Madrid, for sure. Best of five is also different story. I think also a good thing is that I faced him already twice here.
“Of course, there is pressure especially in Grand Slam finals, because I went a very long way now and I don’t want to lose the finals; otherwise, it’s not a very nice feeling. But on the other hand, it’s so tough to go all the way in such a tournament. I think if I’m facing Rafa, I’m not the one who has the pressure (smiling).”
Fighting talk from the crown prince? The King of clay may have some old tricks left up his sleeve though.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets.
POLL: Who will win the Roland Garros men’s singles title?
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