Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro returns the ball to Croatia's Marin Cilic.
Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro returns the ball to Croatia's Marin Cilic.

Del Potro sets up Nadal showdown

TWO years after almost retiring, Juan Martin del Potro will venture into French Open combat tonight against the man he acclaims as the King of Clay - Rafael Nadal.

In doubt before the tournament with a leg injury, the Argentine has defied the odds after a long-run of injuries to advance to the French Open semi-final.

"I got unlucky in Rome when I was playing with (David) Goffin that I felt something wrong in my leg," del Potro said after an epic 7-6 (7-5) 5-7 6-3 7-5 triumph over fellow US Open champion Marin Cilic.

"But then I came here without big expectations, just seeing how my body feels match by match. Now I'm semi-finals, which means something great to me.

"So I have nothing to lose We'll see what can I do against the king of clay."

Hampered by wrist problems since he destroyed Roger Federer in the 2009 Flushing Meadows final, del Potro is eager to cash in on an unlikely second chance.

"Everybody knows that I was close to quit this sport two years ago, but then I, for one reason, I never give up," he said.

"And I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I'm having a great present, looking forward for the future.

"And of course I didn't expect to be in the top five again, to reach semi-finals at the big tournament after all my injuries.

"But he's lefty and … a lefty player has advantage with me because he can find easily my backhand, and he (Nadal) knows what my backhand is at the moment.

Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.
Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.

"But anyway, I will try to do my best, to play my best tennis, and see if I can do a good match."


Nadal rolled closer to an astonishing 11th crown with a 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory over del Potro's compatriot Diego Schwartzman.

As much as he wants his friend to win, Schwartzman cautioned del Potro on what to expect against Nadal.

"He (Nadal) has the best mindset of the history. He's one of the best players in history," he said.

"He doesn't know what frustration is. And despite losing the first set, the first 40 minutes, he came back as if nothing had happened before.

"Sometimes these are talents that very few players have in the world.

"You have to hit hard balls close to the line that don't come back. You have to maintain the high intensity for more than three hours and to win in three sets.

"You have to enter the court being able to have full intensity and not relax for one minute. Because when you're relaxed, you're down, he notes it.

"He changes his play and he's attacking, and he's doing it very well. He did it fantastically, and he's extremely self-confident."


Spain's Rafael Nadal.
Spain's Rafael Nadal.

Nadal holds a 9-5 record against del Potro and has never lost to the South American on clay.

"Del Potro has achieved great victories this year. He has fantastic potential," Nadal said.

"Good server, aggressive game from the end of the court, the baseline.

"And I have to play aggressively. If I play defensively and I don't take intensity, I will be lost."

Posting his 86th win from 88 matches at Roland Garros against Schwartzman, Nadal registered his 235th grand slam victory - a tally bettered only by Roger Federer (332) and Novak Djokovic (244).

Nadal reached his 11th French semi-final, equalling the feats of Federer (Australian Open and Wimbledon) and Jimmy Connors (US Open and Wimbledon).

Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro waves after defeating Croatia's Marin Cilic.
Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro waves after defeating Croatia's Marin Cilic.

Showing no sign of wrist soreness - he had both taped in his quarter-final to prevent sweat trickling onto his palms - Nadal predicted del Potro will regroup quickly from the Cilic match.

If Nadal progresses to the final and topples either Dominic Thiem or Marco Cecchinato, he will equal Margaret Court's record for the most singles titles at the same grand slam.

Court won 11 of her 24 majors at the Australian championships.

Austrian Dominic Thiem will play unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato in the other semi-final.

They have not played at tour level.