PARIS (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal moved to within one victory of ‘La Decima’ at the French Open as he demolished rising Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-3 6-4 6-0 with a daunting show of force in Friday’s semi-final.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, ready to reclaim his Roland Garros crown after a two-year hiatus, dispatched the sixth seed in little more than two hours and is on the verge of becoming the first player to win the same grand slam tournament 10 times.
He faces Swiss Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s showpiece match in what will be only his second clash with the Swiss at Roland Garros -- having won convincingly four years ago.
“Now remains one match against a very tough opponent. He played a very tough match this afternoon, so he will be full of confidence for Sunday,” Nadal told reporters referring to Wawrinka’s five-set victory over top seed Andy Murray.
“He’s a dangerous player because he can hit the ball very hard. I need to play aggressive, if not I’ll be in big trouble.”
Thiem, like fourth seed Nadal, had reached the semi-final without dropping a set and had trounced Serbian defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
But after starting brightly in the early evening sunshine, his challenge disappeared into the encroaching shadows on Court Philippe Chatrier -- an arena on which Nadal has never lost a semi-final or final since his debut in 2005.
Nadal has dropped only 29 games to reach the final -- surpassing his previous best of 35 in 2012 and only two more than Bjorn Borg’s record set in 1978.
Swedish great Borg might still hold that mark but Nadal has long since left the six-times French Open champion behind in the Roland Garros record books. Not that he cares too much for that.
“I think I don’t need to make more history, no?” Nadal said.
“It’s enough. Nine is more than good. Today is not the moment to think about (winning the 10th).”
After Nadal’s limp exit to Djokovic in 2015 and the wrist injury that cut short his challenge last year, the Spanish claycourt king looks hungrier than ever to extend his domination on the clay surface where he has no rival.
Third seed Wawrinka’s epic battle against Murray had delayed Nadal’s appearance until nearly 6pm local time and there was a sense of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” as the day’s second semi-final began.
A break for Thiem in the opening game quickly concentrated minds -- although any prospect of a tussle to match the drama of the day’s first instalment did not last long as Nadal recovered with two breaks of his own to take the opening set.
Thiem, whose elegant single-handed backhand had little effect throughout the contest, had break points early in the second set but Nadal slammed the door shut.
The Spaniard, whose only defeat on the red dirt this year came against Thiem in Rome, then broke with a clubbing forehand and lost only three more points on serve as he sealed the set.
Thiem’s hopes of emulating compatriot Thomas Muster’s French Open triumph in 1995 were over in a flash as Nadal raced through the third set in 28 one-sided minutes.
”Of course I‘m disappointed that, first of all, I just didn’t play the way I can play. I was pretty far away from my
best tennis today,” Thiem said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris