Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro raises his hands after defeating Croatia’s Marin Cilic in their quarterfinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Thursday, June 7, 2018 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Nadal and Halep soar into French Open semifinals

PARIS — Rafael Nadal rallied back to beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 6-2 and conclude their rain-hit French Open quarterfinal on Thursday for a place in the elite final four.

He will now face another Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro, in Friday’s semifinal, after Del Potro conquered Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in the other quarterfinal affected by the weather.

A heavy downpour on Wednesday evening halted the men’s contests after Nadal had dropped a set for the first time at this year’s Roland Garros tournament, but he fought back to within two points of restoring parity in the second set at 4-6, 5-3 (30-15).

However, the 32-year-old, who has won 16 Grand Slam titles, including 10 on the famous red clay, showed no signs of weakness when play resumed on Court Philippe Chatrier as he grabbed 12 of the first 13 points to lead by a break after he capped the second set.

In the women’s draw, world No. 1 Simona Halep is through to her fourth Grand Slam final after she overpowered Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-4, in their semi-final clash in Paris.

“I’m really happy I won this match, it was very important for my mind to know I can beat a great opponent,” said the 26-year-old Romanian.

She will meet current U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens after the 25-year-old world No. 10 dismissed compatriot Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4, in a repeat of last year’s American major final in New York.

“I will be similar to today. I will play my game against (Stephens) as I did last year,” Halep said. “She’s a strong opponent.”

Halep earned a 4-0 head start in the opening 20 minutes as she stormed to the first set advantage with spiteful strokes, despite handing Muguruza a single break with rushed serving.

Muguruza, who won the Roland Garros event in 2016, found her rhythm and gained a 4-2 advantage in the second set, but Halep roared back to take the match in 92 minutes.

Halep is searching for her maiden major title after failing in her three previous attempts, including last year’s French Open final against then-19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko.

“I will try my best to win,” Halep said. “This is my favorite grand slam and hopefully I will be better than last year.

“I will focus on myself, like I did every match here. And I will try just to be calm during the match and try everything I can.”

Schwartzman, ranked at number 12 in the world, had four chances to break Nadal back in the third set, but the world number one displayed impeccable defense, armed with a thunderous top-spun forehand in exhilarating exchanges for a 2-1 set advantage.

Nadal’s opponent crumbled with a stack of errors in the fourth to concede a double break, but after the Argentine offered some resistance, Nadal went in for the kill with a fierce forehand to complete a three-hour-and-42-minute battle.

“The stop yesterday helps, because it was in a tough moment of my match,” Nadal said.

“He was playing great, and I was playing too defensive. I felt that I was playing a little bit under more stress than usual. I think after that I changed, I increased the intensity, increased the determination on how to play my shots, so the match changed drastically.”

Del Potro, the tournament’s fifth seed, was pegged at 6-6 and 5-5 in a first-set tie-break with Cilic, seeded third, before the rain came.

The Argentine won the first two points to round off the first set and outlasted his Croatian opposite in lengthy rallies to win in three hours and 50 minutes.

Nadal beat Del Potro in the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open and holds nine previous triumphs over the world No. 6, and he says he is now thriving off the pressure placed upon him to defend his French Open crown for an 11th Roland Garros success.

“Pressure is part of the sport in general. I don’t feel the pressure now in semifinals,” Nadal said.

“I feel the pressure every day, but not here. Del Potro has achieved great victories this year. This is an important event for me.”

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