Rafael Nadal powered his way into the French Open final and then claimed he can still move up another gear.
Only Dominic Thiem stands in the way of Nadal and what seems an inevitable 11th Roland Garros title tomorrow after a straight-sets pummelling of Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-final yesterday.
Ominously for Thiem, Nadal said: “My feeling is 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.
World number one Nadal edged a tight first set against Del Potro, but then simply blew the fifth seed away.
Del Potro had required treatment on a hip problem suffered early in the first set and he visibly wilted in the second, raising his arms in mock celebration when he won a solitary game while already 5-0 behind.
Relentless Nadal broke to love at the start of the third, and as he moved on to match point an exhausted Del Potro paused for breath, bent double, as if he had been punched in the stomach. He probably felt as though he had been, as Nadal completed a devastating 6-4 6-1 6-2 victory.
Earlier, Thiem saw off Marco Cecchinato and reach his first grand slam final 7-5 7-6 (12/10) 6-1. “I think the big key was the second set because it was a close tie-break,” said 24-year-old. Thiem
“I saved two set points and luckily I won it. It was 6-4 and the one thing I wanted to do was win the set - and I missed an easy volley at one moment which was not a nice feeling.”
Cecchinato’s career has been hindered by his links to a match-fixing scandal; he was banned for 18 months in 2016 before having the suspension overturned. The 25-year-old has refused to answer questions on the matter throughout the fortnight.
Meanwhile Simona Halep claims she is under no pressure as she goes in search of an elusive first grand slam title.
The world number one has come up short in two French Open finals as well as at this year’s Australian Open.
Halep has another chance to break her duck when she takes on American 10th seed Sloane Stephens in the final at Roland Garros today.
“I don’t know who said that I feel pressure. Not me, obviously. I don’t feel pressure,” said the 26-year-old Romanian. “I feel that it’s a big challenge for me. It’s a big chance to win my dream tournament.
“But this doesn’t mean it’s going to happen or something like that. It’s a normal match I play against these opponents.
“So we will see what is going to happen, but I just want to be smiling on court.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved