While Nadal's dominance in Paris can never be doubted, this year's inexorable march to the final has illustrated the paucity of genuine challengers, especially in the absence of Andy Murray and Roger Federer, and with Novak Djokovic being some way from his best after injury.
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.
Nadal was broken three times and lost the opening set of his quarterfinal Wednesday against 11th-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina by a score of 6-4.
But before Thiem, the first Austrian man to reach a Major final since Thomas Muster triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995, finished off his 7-5, 7-6 (12-10), 6-1 victory to book his place in the final tomorrow, Cecchinato gave him quite a fight and a fright.
Paris: World No. 7 and Austria's Dominic Thiem on Friday progressed to the final of the Roland Garros after he saw off a fighting Marco Cecchinato of Italy in their men's singles semi-final match. I continued the level of intensity that I played after the first stop.
"I am in a positive way always on court", Nadal said.
"It was a really close tiebreak and I didn't want that especially after I missed an easy volley at 6/4". I will try everything for my plan to work out here, not only in Madrid or in Rome.
"This extra thing I have to give, I feel I have it inside me, but I have to go and get it. I know I have to improve a little bit". The Austrian reached the semifinal stage at this competition past year but is confident of going one better this time.
But the Spaniard was impressive on Friday, finishing with 35 winners and 19 unforced errors to Del Potro's analysis of 20 and 32.
Wait worthwhile as Halep wins French Open
Halep then fell to 0-3 with a trophy on the line at the Australian Open in January, beaten by Caroline Wozniacki . From 4-all in the second, Halep grabbed seven games in a row to take that set and build a 5-0 edge in third.
Can Thiem take at least two sets from Nadal on Sunday, and in the process, offer up Nadal's first challenge on a big stage in months?
Thiem said after the game.
"He's the big favourite against everybody and still I know how to play against him", Thiem said. "His game is too good for me". "His game is too good for me". Over the past two years, including best-of-three matches, the Spaniard is 49-2 at clay tournaments. However, here past year in the semi-finals, Nadal destroyed Thiem, losing just seven games in a rout, but it is worth mentioning that Thiem triumphed in their last meeting in Madrid last month, in the quarter-finals.
"I played more aggressive", Nadal said, adding: "In my opinion, the match changed, no?" That said, Nadal is on clay and picking against him to lose on this surface at the French Open seems like a foolish move.
In Saturday's women's final, No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania will face No. 10 Sloane Stephens of the United States.
In Madrid, Thiem thrived in the quicker, higher altitude conditions to win their quarter-final in straight sets.
"If he continues with this desire, he can win many more times, like Federer for Wimbledon, and other major tournaments", said Del Potro whose own Grand Slam collection remains stuck on one - his 2009 US Open breakthrough.
In 2016, Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.