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 semifinals past year by the lopsided and deflating score of 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, after plenty of prematch buildup.
Young pretender - and perhaps heir to the throne - Dominic Thiem has been dubbed the Prince of Clay and he will get a shot at the undisputed ruler of the Parisian land for more than a decade.
Nadal crushed del Potro's spirit with the intensity of his tennis in the second set, bounding 5-0 ahead before the Argentine registered a game to lift the spirits of his fans.
World number one Nadal went into Friday's clash with a 9-5 career record against Del Potro, including all three meetings on clay.
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The Spaniard was a set and a break down on Thursday morning before he regrouped and blazed through the last two sets on Friday morning (AEST) in a last-eight showdown played over two days due to rain. Thiem has been in complete control of every match this tournament and is playing some of his most consistent tennis of his life, as he's now in the final for the third time in his last four events. After holding there, Nadal broke del Potro to take that set and was on his way, taking 14 of the last 17 games.
The winners of the men's and women's singles finals this weekend will both take home a tournament record €2.2m (£1.9m/$3.1m) for triumphing on the clay at Roland Garros. "I couldn't make it", said Del Potro. "I don't feel the pressure now in semifinals", Nadal said. He's one of the best players in the world on this surface.
"I will focus on myself, like I did every match here".
And he will fancy his chances, having been the second best clay-court player in the world for the last two seasons behind Nadal, whom he has beaten three times, most recently in the Madrid Open quarter-finals last month.
'For me, the motivation to play here is always high, as high as possible, ' he said. "I have a plan". "Good tactics and mentality in the first set give me the possibility to play much better later in the match", said Nadal.
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Muguruza had hammered Maria Sharapova in the quarter-final but Halep was a different proposition entirely - and it seemed she knew it. I will try everything for my plan to work out here, not only in Madrid or in Rome. "That's the only way for me to approach the tough moments".
"I need to regenerate and have a good breakfast to keep up my good level".
Thiem's rise to the top continued when he ended unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato's run to reach the final of the French Open with a 7-5 7-6 (10) 6-1 win on Friday. "I don't want anyone to think that it's a routine".
"That was not a nice feeling".
"Of course the chance is really small [for Thiem] but I think that DelPo kind of showed the way". The Austrian has already won two titles (Lyon and Buenos Aires) this season and had also reached the final of Madrid Open last month.
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He'll need to be at his absolute best if he's to overcome Nadal on Sunday, and sustaining that level for three or more sets will be hard.