"For me, the motivation to play here always is high, high as possible", Nadal said after breezing past Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in Friday's semi-finals in what was his 85th win in Paris against just two defeats.
Victory would give Nadal an 11th title in Paris and equal Margaret Court's all-time record for wins at the same Slam event - in her case, the Australian Open from 1960 and 1973.
This time, Thiem instead faced Cecchinato, who never had won a Grand Slam match until this tournament and was the lowest-ranked men's semifinalist at the clay-court major in 19 years.
"I am very happy to be in another Roland Garros final, it is the most important tournament of my career". For me it's incredible.
But Thiem has shown himself to be the biggest threat to Nadal's utter dominance on his favoured surface and he's the only player to beat him over the past two years.
Ominously for Thiem, Nadal said: "My feeling is I have a very hard match against a player that is playing great. But I will not give [it to] him, '" Nadal said.
Rafael Nadal improved to 11-0 in French Open semifinals.
Del Potro said the Austrian, the only player to beat Nadal on clay over the past two seasons, has a chance - albeit a slim one.
The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Argentine wiped away tears during his on-court interview, telling fans who chanted his nickname, "delPo": "It has been a long time without good feelings on my body. It was nearly impossible to beat him", del Potro said.
He did not look unduly affected though and his heavy groundstrokes took a toll on Nadal, who rescued three more break points in the ninth game, one with a sublime drop shot.
Nadal also survived multiple set points in the opener against Del Potro. "Good tactics and mentality in the first set".
"Unfortunately, I was not able to convert my break points". Thiem won 76 percent of his total service points and saved five of his six break points. "I couldn't make it", del Potro said. In the fourth game Friday, del Potro clutched at his left hip after being wrong-footed by one shot from Nadal and was visited by a doctor at the next changeover.
"He's been a very complex opponent".
How much prize money can each player earn at Roland Garros?
"If he continues with this desire, he can win many more times, like Federer for Wimbledon, and other major tournaments", said Del Potro whose own Grand Slam collection remains stuck on one - his 2009 US Open breakthrough. Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.
In the second-set tiebreaker on Friday, Thiem went ahead 6-3 but missed out on three set points there, including a bad volley into the net at 6-4 that left him chewing ruefully on his left index finger.
"Thiem is a very complex opponent". Thiem was pushed to winning a seventh game in the opening set by Marco Cecchinato before having to outlast the Italian in a tiebreak in the second.
At long last, Thiem converted his fifth set point when Cecchinato sent a forehand long.
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