Barry Cowan previews the men’s French Open semi-finals at Roland Garros

Dominic Thiem will appear in his third straight semi-final in Paris against Marco Cecchinato while Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro meet in a French Open clash of the titans on Friday

First up on Court Philippe Chatrier, seventh seed Thiem will appear in his third straight semi-final in Paris against 72nd-ranked Italian Cecchinato, who will hope to continue his dream run having beaten former champion Novak Djokovic in the last round.

Cecchinato, who had never won a Grand Slam match prior to this tournament, will face Thiem for the first time in his career, and Barry Cowan expects the Austrian seventh-seed to come through without too much trouble.

“Thiem is the heavy favourite while emotionally it will be very hard for Cecchinato to come back and do it again after his astonishing win against Djokovic,” Cowan told Sky Sports.

“He’s up against Thiem, who has been in great form and I believe that the stars are aligned for him. He’s been able to manoeuvre his way through the draw and benefited from the fact that Alexander Zverev had played those three five-set matches in a row before losing to Thiem.

“Overall, I’ve been impressed with Thiem as I have done all the way through the clay-court season. I thought he played great in Madrid, was a little unlucky in Rome [losing Italy’s Fabio Fognini at the first hurdle], but he’s ready to make that next step and make his first Grand Slam final.

“He’s the massive favourite, but I think he’s comfortable with that. He can put on a great performance, but we know he can play one great match. The big question mark was could he play two great matches, or three great matches? Well, he only has to play one great match because seven out of 10 tennis has enabled him to get to this stage. He’s still pretty fresh mentally and physically.”

Cowan’s verdict

The unseeded Italian has exceeded even the wildest expectations by getting this far but Cowan expects Thiem to get the job done in three or four sets.

“They’ve both got singled-handed backhands, but Thiem has got more weight in the shot. Cecchinato had never won a match in a Grand Slam before Roland Garros, so he’s not only broken new ground by winning a match, he’s broken new ground by reaching the semi-finals. He’s on the verge of making a Grand Slam final, which is why I think it will be a match too far for him.”

In the second semi-final, 10-time French Open champion Nadal is aiming to reach his record-extending 11th final at Roland Garros.

The top-ranked Spaniard, who has dropped only one set so far, takes on Del Potro. The fifth-seeded Argentine is back to the semi-finals in Paris for the first time since 2009, which is the year he went on to win the US Open for his only major title.

Did you know…

Nadal won record 11th Monte Carlo and Barcelona titles earlier this year and has an 84-2 winning record in Paris.

By comparison, Nadal has won 16 majors. Although Del Potro has beaten Nadal five times, Nadal won their last encounter and leads 9-5 overall head-to-head.

“There’s definitely a chance Del Potro can push Nadal because it’s Del Potro. We know the big match mentality that Del Potro has but I do feel that he will struggle against Rafa due to his game-style,” admitted Cowan. “Rafa will go big into that backhand and although that part of Del Potro’s game has improved in the last year, he’s not going to hurt Rafa from that wing.

“You can’t go into survival mode against Nadal – you have to hurt Nadal. Del Potro can hurt him with his serve and with his forehand, but he can’t hurt him with his backhand, and I think that’s really crucial if you are looking to beat him on clay. That will be the key area and I think that Nadal will be able to win that battle.”

Cowan’s verdict

Del Potro has looked one of the biggest threats to Nadal’s domination this year, with his pulverising forehand dismantling everyone in his path on the Parisian clay. The 29-year-old has also won his last two out of three matches against Nadal.

“Traditionally, Del Potro is a slow starter and it’s very difficult to play catch-up against Rafa. It’s so difficult to play at such a high-tempo for long periods, so I see Rafa winning in three, potentially four sets,” said Cowan. “I think Rafa will win the first, Del Potro could take the second, but then Rafa will take the next two to win, or he could just win in three.”