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.
It was the 24-year-old Austrian's third consecutive appearance in the final four at Roland Garros, after losses to eventual champions Djokovic in 2016 and Nadal in 2017. For me it's incredible.
"If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid".
And yet, insists Nadal: "I just go on court knowing that every match is hard, and I can lose and I can win". "If it's going to be him on Sunday, I will try everything that my plan also going to work out a little bit here and not only in Madrid or in Rome", Thiem said. And you probably saw how that worked out for him Friday at the French Open.
It is nice to get the two best clay courters possible in Sunday's final.
Thiem remains confident that history won't repeat itself on Sunday, adding he will arrive on Court Philippe Chatrier with a clear mind.
What is definitely true: Thiem has never been to a Grand Slam final until now.
"Second mistake, in the first set, he's holding very easily and what does he do on the break points?"
"Forget the 10 (French Open titles) and forget what happened a year ago, Thiem has to remember what happened in Madrid which is a title Nadal wants to win nearly as much as the French", Wilander, Eurosport's chief analyst, told Reuters.
Yesh: It has been nearly a decade since del Potro made the semifinals here.
"I think that was my chance of the match".
Converting break points has become close to impossible against Nadal on the red clay of Paris.
"If I'd won the second set I think it is totally different, the third set", he said.
Nadal is now 110-2 in best-of-five-set matches on the surface, 85-2 in Paris.
The key is the rate at which Nadal makes his way back to the baseline and into an attacking position.
"He's been a very complex opponent".
That's only €100,000 more - just a 4.5 per cent rise - than last year's champions Rafael Nadal and Jelena Ostapenko collected. Faltering even slightly "is not something that is happening very often with him, but the way he's been playing the last three sets yesterday and the last two sets today, is gonna help his confidence".
The Spaniard maintained his momentum to take a 2-0 lead in the second, executing the drop shot to perfection and making Del Potro run in the heat, claiming another break with a searing backhand.
The victor will play either seventh seed Dominic Thiem, who appears in his third straight semi-final in Paris or Italian Marco Cecchinato, who will hope to continue his dream run having beaten former champion Novak Djokovic in the last round. Thiem got to 10-all with a drop shot of his own.
The battle wore on and on, before, on the Austrian's fifth set point, Cecchinato went long to fall two sets behind.