Rafael Nadal roared to French Open title number 11 with a straight-sets demolition of Dominic Thiem.
The Spaniard continued his extraordinary domination at Roland Garros with a ruthless 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory.
Seventh seed Thiem is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay in the past two years, and he claimed he had a plan to thwart the Spaniard in Paris.
But once a competive first set went the way of the world number one, the plan became damage limitation and Nadal’s ‘undecima’ never looked in any doubt.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for Thiem, playing in his first grand slam final against a man who simply does not lose this particular battle.
If Thiem is, as he is widely regarded, the second best clay-court player in the world then he probably has a few more of these pummellings to look forward to at least until Nadal, 32, finally calls it a day.
Nadal’s incredible record in Paris now reads 86 wins and two defeats. He has won every final he has reached, and in those 11 finals he has dropped just six sets.
As if the task was not daunting enough for Thiem, the early signs were even more ominous. The Austrian won just one of the first nine points as Nadal immediately broke for 2-0.
But Thiem, unusually standing up to Nadal’s first serve, forced two break points in the next game and converted the second with a flashing forehand into the right corner.
It was the only blow he landed all afternoon. Thiem withstood a barrage of break points to hold in a marathon sixth game, which he thought he had won at 40-30 when he left a wide ball, only for the umpire to overrule the line judge.
But at 4-5 Thiem’s serve let him down badly, handing Nadal three set points. Any hopes of an upset all but disappeared along with the ragged Thiem forehand which sailed way beyond the baseline.
Thiem used to hike through the Alps in his homeland as part of his training, but the 24-year-old had an even bigger mountain to climb now.
The first set had taken 57 minutes, in stiflingly humid conditions, but there was to be no let-up for the underdog in the second.
He saved three break points in his first service game but a wayward backhand ensured Nadal took the fourth.
A hold to love showed Thiem had not given up the ghost, however unlikely a repeat of Simona Halep’s heroics from the same position a day earlier seemed.
He still occasionally inconvenienced the reigning champion, not least when a deft drop shot brought up a point to break back at 2-4.
That was swatted away with Nadal’s double-handed backhand, though, and the second set duly went the way of the favourite.
The only thing that could stop Nadal now was surely an injury. So there was mild concern when Nadal called for the trainer midway through a game, requiring treatment on what looked like cramp in his hand.
It made no difference; he could probably win this with one hand tied behind his back.
The punishment continued, with Thiem by now looking up to his coach and shrugging as another forehand whistled past him.
Two breaks later Nadal was in a familiar position, serving for the title, and when another Thiem forehand dropped long, his arms were raised in celebration, yet again.
Now only Dominic Thiem stands in the way of Nadal and what seems an inevitable 11th Roland Garros title.
The Spanish world number one edged a tight first set but then simply blew fifth seed Del Potro away.
It was swift and brutal. Del Potro had forced six break points during the first set but Nadal fended each one off.
Nadal, by contrast, had not had a sniff on Del Potro’s serve until, at 5-4, two swishes of his forehand forced two set points, the second of which he converted when the Argentinian netted.
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.
Relentless Nadal broke to love at the start of the third, and as he moved on to match point an exhausted Del Potro paused for breath, bent double, as if he had been punched in the stomach.
He probably felt as though he had been, as Nadal completed a devastating 6-4 6-1 6-2 victory.
His record at Roland Garros now stands at 85 wins and two defeats. One of those victories came against Thiem in last year’s semi-final and was, if anything, more comprehensive than this one. However, Thiem did beat Nadal on the clay of Madrid last month.
Ominously, perhaps, for Thiem, Nadal said: “I have to improve a little bit.
“I believe I can be ready for that final. It’s going to be a tough one but I will fight all the way.”
Earlier Thiem needed to survive a nasty bout of the jitters to see off Marco Cecchinato and reach his first grand slam final.
The Austrian was in control of his semi-final against the world number 72, holding three set points in a tie-break for a 2-0 lead.
However, having squandered one set point, he went in for a simple backhand volley winner only to dump it into the net.
The third quickly disappeared as well and Cecchinato had set points of his own, but Thiem finally put the Italian away before going on to win 7-5 7-6 (12/10) 6-1.
“I think the big key was the second set because it was a close tie-break,” said the 24-year-old.
“I saved two set points and luckily I won it. It was 6-4 and the one thing I wanted to do was win the set – and I missed an easy volley at one moment which was not a nice feeling.”
Cecchinato’s catalogue of drop shots which helped account for Novak Djokovic kept Thiem on his toes throughout, but once the pivotal tie-break went the seventh seed’s way Cecchinato’s unlikely run was all but over.
His Paris heroics have not exactly been the uplifting tale they should have been, though.
Cecchinato’s career has been tainted by his involvement in a match-fixing scandal; he was banned for 18 months in 2016 before having the suspension overturned. The 25-year-old has refused to answer questions on the matter throughout the fortnight.
Nevertheless, Cecchinato can look back on a breakthrough tournament – he had never won a match at a grand slam before beating Marius Copil 10-8 in the fifth set last week.
“If I’d won the second set I think it is totally different, the third set,” he said. “But after the loss, I went a little bit down mentally.”
The Romanian is yet to win a Grand Slam title but looks ominously ready to break her duck at Roland Garros.
Muguruza had hammered Maria Sharapova in the quarter-final but Halep was a different proposition entirely – and it seemed she knew it. A nervous start from Muguruza was immediately pounced upon by Halep for a break in the opening game.
Half an hour later 1-0 had become 6-1 and the challenge of Muguruza, who would have taken over at the top of the rankings with a victory, appeared to be fading fast.
She improved in the second set, breaking early on only to be pegged back at 4-4 before Halep held a marathon ninth game and broke for a 6-1 6-4 win.
American Sloane Stephens, the 10th seed, now stands between her and a first grand slam title.
It will be the 26-year-old Romanian’s fourth appearance in a major final, having also lost to Caroline Wozniacki in Australia in January.
But Halep feels better equipped to finally break her duck in Paris. She said: “I have more experience now.
“I feel calm. I feel that I have to enjoy it today, the victory, because it was a great match.
“Then I have two more days until I play the final. So I will stay chilled. I will relax. We will see what is going to happen Saturday, but for sure I will fight for every ball.”
Stephens beat her fellow American and great friend Madison Keys 6-4 6-4 in a repeat of last year’s US Open final.
That match was also won, comprehensively, by Stephens for her first grand slam crown.
This was a less clear-cut victory but an early break of serve in each set put Stephens in control.
Keys slipped two breaks down in the second but although she pulled one back Stephens served out for the match.
“It’s always hard to play someone from your country, and such a good friend, so I’m pleased to get through that,” said Stephens.
“It will be another great opportunity on Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it.”