But Thiem, unusually standing up to Nadal's first serve, forced two break points in the next game and converted the second with a flashing forehand into the right corner.
The 10-time Roland Garros champion was second-best in the first set, but the powerful Del Potro was unable to claim a solitary break as he was thrashed 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on a glorious Friday in Paris. But for me, every tournament, I believe that there is chances, limited chances in your career.
"I think if I'm facing Rafa, I'm not the one who has the pressure". Yet Nadal and James are tapping into a cycle of near-peerless play that is redefining how we view the greats and what can be accomplished well more than a decade into all-time careers. "It was nearly impossible to beat Nadal".
Nadal's defence work, snaring his opponent into unforced errors, resulted in an early break in the second but Del Potro's service game deteriorated as he lost seven games on the spin to leave himself in need of a regroup, but it was one-way traffic. His last few seasons have been marked by inconsistency and injury, and Diego Schwartzman demonstrated that there are weaknesses to be exploited in Nadal's game.
- "He is fresh, healthy".
"He looks fresh. He is healthy".
His flawless sliding and fine single-handed backhand make him a fearsome player on clay and Cecchinato believes he has what it takes to continue his climb up the rankings.
However, after rain meant the match was suspended on Wednesday with the Spaniard trailing by a set, the pair returned on Thursday in brighter, lighter conditions, and Nadal eased his way into the last four with an exhibition of clay-court tennis.
Nevertheless, Cecchinato can look back on a breakthrough tournament - he had never won a match at a grand slam before beating Marius Copil 10-8 in the fifth set last week.
Thiem grabbed a 2-0 head start in the first set as his powerful serve was fully charged and his approach to the net ruthless against a nervy Cecchinato.
There was a sense of inevitability when Del Potro served at 4-5 and Nadal turned the screws to grab two set points at 15-40. "Today was unbelievable for me, with all of Philippe-Chatrier Court full".
The 24-year-old Thiem was the last player to get the better of Nadal, too, last month at the Madrid Open.
But that was only after Nadal had allowed him just two games in a last-eight mauling in Monte Carlo.
While Thiem faces an nearly impossible task on Sunday, Nadal was taking nothing for granted against the man who beat him in Madrid.
"I know how to play against him", he said, without elaborating. "But I'm also aware that here it's tougher", said Thiem, the first Austrian in a major final since Thomas Muster won in Paris in 1995. For sure he is beatable, but you have to have the level, and Dominic has the level and you have to play the ideal match and the most important thing is you can't miss the occasions that you have.
Nadal saved three break points at 1-all in the opening set and another three at 4-all. "I have a plan".
Nadal and Thiem have met nine times - all of them on clay.
Nadal has an 84-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros. The Italian had never won a major singles match heading into the tournament, but he took the scalp of Djokovic to reach this stage.
PARIS-The only man to beat Rafael Nadal on clay this year was Dominic Thiem. Borg on Clay or Borg on Grass or even Borg on both was a hard choice to make, but the above lineup makes it even by having exactly two players per surface. "It has to be a player that plays extremely well", said the Swede.
So, if a player as good as Thiem is on clay is still struggling for parity with Nadal, and there is no other obvious contender to trouble him, his path to at least 13 or 14 French titles would seem to be one covered in rose petals - if he stays healthy.