French Open day 12: Nadal normalizes things, Halep fights to keep her No. 1 standing

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 07: Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during the men's singles quarter finals match against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina during day twelve of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 7, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by XIN LI/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 07: Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during the men's singles quarter finals match against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina during day twelve of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 7, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by XIN LI/Getty Images) /

Rafa may have lost a set to Schwartzman, but he was able to recuperate after the rain delay to expected dominant form. Del Potro secured an emotional win over Cilic, while Halep demonstrated why she’s the best on clay and Stephens amassed all the power she had over compatriot Keys.

Nadal back on track

In case you were worried about Rafael Nadal, you needn’t. He came back on Thursday after his match against Diego Schwartzman had been rain delayed and powered his way through the next three sets, putting things back in tidy order and securing his spot in the semi-finals for the 11th time at Roland Garros, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Once both players entered Philippe-Chartrier stadium, Nadal was back to firing forehand winners, picked up the pace, and controlling the narrative of the court.

In other words, Nadal was back to being Nadal.

The world No. 12, Diego Schwartzman — an inspiration for shorter players on the tour — will walk away this French Open being one of the few to have taken a set off the ‘king of clay’ at Roland Garros.

“Diego is a good friend, a good player. It wasn’t easy but I wish him well for the future,” Nadal said afterwards. “I played at a better level after the rain [yesterday]. I’m happy to make it to the semi-finals and want to thank the crowd for their support.”

Del Potro enjoying the moment

Nadal got through one Argentine, but will face another, Juan Martin del Potro, in what’s sure to be an exciting meeting between the two, who know each other well. Although Rafa owns their head-to-head (9-5), the world No. 6 has won two of the last three meetings. The Argentine got this far at the U.S. Open last year as well — after defeating Roger Federer— but came up against a resurgent Nadal, who went on to the win the title. That was on hard courts, and this is on Nadal’s home turf, clay, so the likelihood is that he’ll prevail over del Potro again, but the Argentine isn’t fazed, and is still riding a positive wave of success since coming back at the 2016 Olympics.

“It’s been a long time without a good feeling with my body,” Del Potro said in an on-court interview, after defeating Croatia’s Marin Cilic, 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. “I had three surgeries on my wrist and I was close to quitting the sport.”

The 2009 U.S. Open champion also knows playing the 10-time French Open “king” will be a long shot.

“I believe Rafa’s lost two matches here his whole life — because of the way he is, his fitness and the way he plays, he’s the king of the tournament,” del Potro said. “But it’s always a pleasure playing him in a Grand Slam. These are unique moments, and many players would like to have this opportunity.

“I have to enjoy the moment, and I will try to enjoy it tomorrow.”

The win in the quarter-finals was an emotional one for the 29-year-old, who broke down after the match. The conclusion of the match was left over from a tight tie break at 5-all the day before.

Halep fights to stay on top

The match of the day belonged to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza and Romania’s Simona Halep, in an enthralling display of high-quality tennis, with the No. 1 ranking on the line. Simona Halep is the best player on clay and an incredible talent, but the number one criticism of her has always been her mental strength. She’s been at the top of the rankings before, but never won a grand slam to go along with it. But fight is what the Romanian did to secure her spot in the final.

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This will be Halep’s fourth final. She’s 0-3 so far, including the Australian Open earlier this year against Caroline Wozniacki. In one of the best women’s finals, it was Woz who prevailed that day, securing her first slam title to go along with overtaking the world No. 1 spot. Halep’s gained it back since then, but is still seeking the slam win to go along with it. More importantly, she has the opportunity to silence her critics once and for all.

Will Halep be able to do it on Saturday? She’s the best on clay and is the favorite. Her tactics over Muguruza in the semi give every indication she can.

Stephens impresses with an opportunity for another slam title

But first she’ll have to defeat Sloane Stephens, who already has a grand slam, in an all-American rematch from the U.S. Open final, defeating friend Madison Keys in their semifinal match, 6-4, 6-4 in a powerful display of confidence.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and your friend. I was pleased to get through that and play some good tennis,” Stephens, 25, said after the match.

“So I lost three times until now and no one died, so it will be okay I think I will be more confident, because I have a lot of experience,” said Halep. “But in tennis, you never know, so I will stay chill.”

“Stay chill” … maybe that’s all Halep needs to do. We’ll see on Saturday, for the women’s final.

The men’s semifinals will take place on Friday, with two highly anticipated matcups, Nadal vs. del Potro but first we get a tantalizing Checchinato vs. Thiem. Cannot wait.

The men’s semifinals can be viewed beginning at 6:00 a.m. on the Tennis Channel and then NBC.