On Sunday, Nadal will face No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian who reached his first Grand Slam final by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1. He takes on rising tennis star Dominic Thiem for the title.
"Of course the chance is really small [for Thiem] but I think that DelPo kind of showed the way".
"I know how to play against him", he said, without elaborating.
"The first set was very hard, with too many chances for Juan Martin", Nadal said.
Del Potro's play this tournament, plus his history against Nadal - the fifth seed won two of their three previous duels and was the last foe to down the Mallorcan in a grand slam semifinal in 2009 - suggested a close tilt.
But Thiem, 24, was too strong and now believes he has a particularly powerful weapon on his side for the final - breakfast.
- "He is fresh, healthy". "He looks fresh. He is healthy, and the strength that he has and the mentality, everything is flawless, works ideal for him playing on clay". "And the strength that he has and the mentality, everything is flawless, works ideal for him playing on clay".
There have, however, appeared to be one or two chinks in Nadal's armour at Roland Garros this year.
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.
Del Potro had required treatment on a hip problem suffered early in the first set and he visibly wilted in the second, raising his arms in mock celebration when he won a solitary game while already 5-0 behind.
"You can win a set, but not a match against Rafa", said Del Potro keen not to over-egg any hint of weakness in Nadal's game. And he set up a French Open final that, pardon the cliché, is a worthy clash between the king of clay and the man hailed as the prince. That ends his streak of 37 consecutive completed sets won in the tournament.
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.
"I played more aggressive".
That is not to say Dominic Thiem's time will come - it will, after knocking on the door for the last two years reaching the semi-finals, this is the next progressive step. Quicker clay conditions - Rome, and in particular, Madrid, seem to be something of a leveller. It was the first time in three years that Nadal had dropped a set in Paris. "I have a plan". To get to 11-0 in French Open finals, he'll need to get past the only man who has beaten him on red clay over the last two seasons.
"I think if I'm facing Rafa, I'm not the one who has the pressure".
Federer's 11 are at Wimbledon, and if Nadal beats Thiem on Sunday, he'll keep his flawless French final mark; he's never lost in the ultimate match at this event.
"To beat him in five sets on clay is hard".