Nadal to face Thiem for French Open title

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At the age of 25, Marco Cecchinato finally got a taste of what it is like to win matches at a Grand Slam tournament. One down-the-line forehand victor landed right at the baseline, leaving Thiem sagging his shoulders and muttering.

Since they exchanged breaks of serve in the second and third games, both have held serve, with Nadal now ahead 5-4, with Thiem serving next.

His semi-final win over Juan Martin del Potro meant Nadal equalled great rival Roger Federer in reaching 11 finals at a single grand slam, the Swiss having won eight Wimbledon titles and been runner-up three times.

"There is a reason why he won 11 times here", said Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian appearing in his first major final.

Well drilled as ever, Nadal looked relaxed as he a huge crowd swarmed to Court 4 to see him practice on a glorious Saturday afternoon in Paris.

Nadal's French Open campaign did not begin quite as smoothly as he has grown accustomed to, with the world #1 forced to save three set points to progress in straight sets 6-4 6-3 7-6 against Bolelli.

Nadal, a 16-time Grand Slam champion, claimed his 85th win here against just two losses after weathering a big-hitting opening from 2009 US Open victor Del Potro to win 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

"I know I have to play my best if I want to have chances", said Nadal, who needs to win Sunday to hold onto his No. 1 ranking.

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By contrast, Thiem was competing in his maiden major final and although he matched his illustrious opponent for large parts of the opening set, he crumbled at the crunch and never really regained his poise. "I think he's the second or third-best player on red clay", Cecchinato, who was suspended for match-fixing in 2016 before being cleared on a technicality, told reporters. "But I will not give (it to) him, '" Nadal said. "When (Thiem) is dominating the point, he is very risky".

Just like that, Nadal was off on a five-game burst to lead 3-0 in the second set.

Only two players have managed to beat Nadal at the French Open since he first bounded into Roland Garros in 2005 armed with a bulging left bicep, pirate trousers and a pulverising brand of claycourt tennis the like of which had not been seen before. He then crushed a tired looking Zverev 6-4 6-2 6-1 before halting the fairy tale run of Cecchinato 7-6 7-6 6-1.

He still occasionally inconvenienced the reigning champion, not least when a deft drop shot brought up a point to break back at 2-4. So there are not 10 more chances to keep playing here.

Siniakova was the doubles runner-up at last year's U.S. Open with a different partner.

It looks a daunting mission for the 24-year-old Thiem but not necessarily an impossible one.

But the Spaniard was impressive on Friday, finishing with 35 winners and 19 unforced errors to Del Potro's analysis of 20 and 32."Thiem is an wonderful player".

Nadal is 49-0 in all other clay-court contests over the past two seasons.

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