PARIS — Juan Martin del Potro is back in the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2009 and will next face Rafael Nadal, the man with the most appearances at this stage of the clay-court Grand Slam.
The fifth-seeded Del Potro, whose career has been hampered by injuries, beat third-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 Thursday. Ten-time champion Nadal completed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman. Both matches had been stopped by rain on Wednesday.
With his good run at Roland Garros, Del Potro is now guaranteed to return to the top four in the rankings for the first time in more than four years.
Del Potro fought back tears during his post-match interview and was loudly cheered by fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen.
“It’s tough to speak now,” the 2009 U.S. Open champion said. “It has been a long time without good feelings. I had three surgeries on my left wrist. I was close to (quitting).”
Del Potro, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 French Open semifinals, hit 31 winners against Cilic, including 19 aces.
He briefly lost his focus toward the end of the second set when he appeared to be distracted by a spectator just before hitting a double-fault to drop his serve and give Cilic a 5-4 lead. He confronted the fan, then smashed his racket as he returned to his chair at the changeover.
He eventually lost the set and found himself trailing 3-1 in the third set before turning things around, with Cilic largely undone by his 74 unforced errors.
Del Potro has won only five of his 14 previous matches against Nadal.
“I don’t know if I will win, but I will take a big love from you and that’s the most important for me,” he said.
Nadal was serving at 5-3, 30-15 after having dropped the first set when play was stopped on Wednesday. He came back on court in full swing and made Schwartzman run with a combination of deep groundstrokes and subtle drop shots. He was also able to raise his level when in danger, saving three break points in the eighth game of the third set with great shot-making, and four more in the final set.
Nadal is only the third male player in the Open era to reach 11 semifinals at a single Grand Slam, alongside Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors.
In womens’ play, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys were to play for a spot in the French Open final. It’s the first semifinal between a pair of American women at Roland Garros since Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati on her way to the 2002 title.
Top-ranked Simona Halep is up against 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza in the other semifinal match.