The Spaniard will face fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro in Friday's semi-final after the Argentine beat third seed Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-5) 5-7 6-3 7-5 in another quarter-final that was moved to Thursday. Nadal saved all six break points and converted one of his two own to pocket the first set. Next up on Philippe-Chatrier was Nadal-the King of Clay on his court-and he delivered a terrific performance, making del Potro look patently average en route to a 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Thiem has yet to prove that he can stay with Nadal in a best-of-five-set match, losing in the second round of the French Open in 2014, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, and again in the French Open semi-finals past year by the lopsided and deflating score of 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, after plenty of pre-match build-up.
"I couldn't find the right person", a smiling del Potro said after the match.
"He's an unbelievable player", Nadal said. The vanquished del Potro acknowledged as much as he reflected on the brief stretch where he was able to put up some resistance to Nadal's unremitting intensity.
The first set was a tight affair, with Thiem claiming the decisive break in the 11th game but the Italian retained his composure to send the second to a tie-break.
Thiem "plays very heavy topspin, very aggressive, goes for the shots, [has] fitness, condition", Moya said. And from then on, when I managed to win the set, the game changed.
Thiem has beaten Nadal on clay in each of the past two seasons, including just a few weeks ago on clay in Madrid, so that will certainly boost his confidence.
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"It's always hard to play someone from your country and such a good friend, but I'm happy I played my tennis", Stephens said.
After discussing his aspirations with an incredible 11th Roland Garros title now in sight, Rafa - a fervent Real Madrid fan - concluded, "I'm glad Cristiano is 23".
Nadal won the French Open on his debut as a 19-year-old and came into this year's event with a 79-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros. Nadal thrashed the Argentine to win the match in straight sets: 6-4,6-1,6-2. "I think if I'm facing Rafa, I'm not the one who has the pressure". I have to play my best.
The No. 7-seeded Thiem beat Cecchinato 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 in the semifinals Friday. Everybody, including Thiem on Friday, chatters about what a awful chore it must be to beat him in best-of-five.
In 2016, Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality. At 24, Thiem is playing his best tennis.
"Once he gets ahead in the match, his confidence gets back", said Moya, the 1998 French Open champion.