After Dominic Thiem had routed the Italian giant slayer Marco Cecchinato in straight sets and thus advanced to his first ever French Open final, the latest installment of a much more storied rivalry was to determine this year’s second finalist. The undisputed King of Clay and reigning champion, Rafael Nadal, was up against Juan Martin Del Potro, most commonly nicknamed the “Tower of Tandil”. The pair had met fourteen times before, with the world number one posting a positive record of 9-5 overall, as well as 2-0 on the the Spaniard’s beloved red dirt. However, their last meeting on clay dated back eleven years to the French Open 2007 when Nadal, during his most dominant period in Paris, disposed off Del Potro in straight sets. Lately, the tall Argentine has been riding on an astonishing wave of success that has seen him winning the first Masters 1000 title of the year and reclaiming a position inside the top 10. This circumstance, coupled with the fact that it has been a long time since the two met on clay, promised a highly interesting, tense affair.
The Argentine was seen practicing on Philippe Chatrier Court this morning ahead of his eagerly anticipated clash with Rafael Nadal this afternoon:
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 8, 2018
As the match started, Nadal struggled to hold serve and at 1-1 Del Potro created three breakpoint opportunities, none of which the Argentine was able to convert. Del Potro relied on his heavy serve to keep points short and employ his forehand during rallies. For Nadal on the other hand it proved efficient to make frequent use of the drop shot which Del Potro often was unable to retreat as he chose to return serve from far behind the baseline despite Nadal’s low speed on serves. Although the Argentine seemed to be the better player overall, he was unable to establish a substantial lead. At four games all, Nadal was faced with the task of saving another two break points. When it mattered most, the drop shot came to his aide again. The second break point quickly vanished when Del Potro mishit a forehand badly. Eventually, Nadal held serve and put the score to 5-4. The former semifinalist grew increasingly frustrated with his inability to capitalize on the chances Nadal gifted him. Fittingly, he forfeited the set 4-6 after saving one set point with a backhand error into the net.
By the time the second set commenced, Del Potro still had not shaken off the doubts that had been plaguing his performance since giving away three break points at 4-4 in the first set. In contrast, Nadal’s game had stabilized and his defenses were on full display. His opponent rarely found a way to penetrate the ball machine Nadal now began to resemble. He surrendered his serve to love right away and Nadal, having found his mojo, soon led 3-0. Whatever Del Potro seemed to be trying, it did not suffice to eclipse Nadal’s capability of covering each and every remote corner of the court. Up a double break, Roland Garros’s most venerated competitor began dominating the match with his forehand down the line. Players, analysts and commentators alike agree that this is usually a suitable indicator of the Spaniard’s confidence which appeared to amass by the minute. Del Potro getting on the scoreboard after seven straight games for Nadal was met with frenetic applause by the Philippe Chatrier crowd who hoped to prolong the match at least for a short while. Nadal however had no troubles at all to serve the second set out and cruise to a commanding to sets to none-lead.
As the third set kicked off, Nadal continued exactly where he had left off at end of the second set, securing an immediate break and holding serve convincingly for 2-0. When Del Potro served at 1-3, Nadal broke serve yet again with a crushing backhand return winner cross court to lead 4-1. From there on, both players held serve comfortably and after two hours and fourteen minutes of play an equally content and relieved Nadal raised his arms skyward to celebrate reaching yet another French Open final.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 8, 2018
He will encounter first time finalist Dominic Thiem, the only player whom he has lost a match against on clay in the last two years, in what promises to be a mouthwatering battle of the generations.
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