Friday, June 8, 2018

Nadal, Thiem advance to French Open final

Rafael Nadal, shown at Indian Wells in 2017, will seek his 11th French Open
singles title on Sunday. Photo by Mal Taam 
   There might be tougher tasks in life than to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
   Watch television for five minutes without seeing Flo in a Progressive Insurance commercial? 
   Listen to Barry Manilow?
   Get speedy service at the post office?
   But defeating Nadal at Roland Garros in Paris is right up there. Juan Martin Del Potro was the latest player to attempt the next-to-impossible, losing to Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in today's semifinals.
   Mind you, Del Potro grew up on clay in Argentina, won the 2009 U.S. Open and is ranked sixth in the world.
   No matter. Nadal, who turned 32 on Sunday, advanced to his 11th French Open final and improved to 85-2 at Roland Garros. The only players to beat him there are Robin Soderling of Sweden in the fourth round in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals in 2015.
   The only other man in the Open era to reach 11 finals in a single Grand Slam tournament is Roger Federer, who has won eight titles in 11 title matches at Wimbledon.
   The top-ranked Nadal will seek his 11th French Open singles title when he faces Dominic Thiem, seeded seventh and ranked eighth, on Sunday at 6 a.m. PDT on NBC.
   Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian, eliminated unseeded Marco Cecchinato of Italy 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 to reach his first Grand Slam final. Both players have sensational one-handed backhands.
   Nadal is 6-3 against Thiem, with all of the matches coming on outdoor clay. Thiem won the last encounter 7-5, 6-3 in the Madrid quarterfinals last month, but in the previous two matches, Nadal romped 6-0, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo quarters in April and 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 in last year's French Open semifinals.
   Nadal has not lost a set to Thiem in two Grand Slam matches. In their first career meeting, Nadal won 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the 2014 French Open.
   Thiem will try to become only the second man outside of the "Big Five" (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka) to win a major title since 2009. Marin Cilic captured the 2014 U.S. Open.
   Del Potro, who almost quit tennis after undergoing four wrist operations in recent years, will rise two spots and equal his career high of No. 4 in the world rankings on Monday.
   In Saturday's women's final, top-ranked Simona Halep will face 10th-seeded Sloane Stephens at 6 a.m. PDT on NBC.
   Halep, 26, is 0-3 in Grand Slam singles finals, including losses in the 2014 and 2017 French Opens.
   Stephens, a 25-year-old Fresno product, is 1-0 in major finals. Unseeded, she won last year's U.S. Open in only her fifth tournament after undergoing foot surgery.
   Stephens will attempt to become the first U.S. woman other than Serena Williams to win the French Open since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

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