French connection: Nadal again into semifinals

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PARIS — Rafael Nadal is into the French Open semifinals for the 11th time.

The top-ranked Spaniard completed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman of Argentina on Thursday after their quarterfinal was halted by rain on Wednesday night.

Nadal was serving at 5-3, 30-15 after having dropped the first set when play was stopped.

He came back on court in full swing and made Schwartzman run a lot 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.

“The changes were not the sun or the rain. It was within myself, Nadal said of the difference in his play between Wednesday and Thursday. “Of course, the rain helped stop the match and helped me think about the match, and that’s a reality. But in terms of play, what changed is how I played and how I managed the match.”

Said Schwartzman: “Rafa was totally different guy yesterday, and today the match changed a lot. He was playing better than me today, and so nothing. … Maybe the day when you can beat Rafa was yesterday.”

Nadal is only the third male player in the Open era to reach 11 semifinals at a single Grand Slam, alongside Roger Federer (Australian Open, 14; Wimbledon 12) and Jimmy Connors (US Open, 14; Wimbledon, 11).

The 10-time Roland Garros champion will next face Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.

This would be the fifth time that Nadal and del Potro will meet at a Grand Slam event, with Nadal holding a 3-1 edge. The winner of these meetings ended up in the final each time and won three of the four Slams.

“I don’t know if I will win, but I will take a big love from you,” an emotional del Potro, whose career has been hampered by injuries, told fans during his postmatch interview. “That’s the most important for me.”

The fifth-seeded del Potro fought back tears and was loudly cheered by fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen as he advanced to the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2009, when he lost to Federer.

“It’s tough to speak now,” the fifth-seeded Argentine player said. “It has been a long time without good feelings. I had three surgeries on my left wrist. I was close to [quitting].”

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. He has nine career victories against a world No. 1-ranked player during his career — a record for players having never reached the top ranking.

“I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist,” del Potro said. “And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future. … . I think all the tougher moments of my life are completely in the past, and I’m enjoying a lot this present.”

The 2009 US Open champ, who will be playing his fifth career semifinal in a major, hit 31 winners against Cilic, including 19 aces.

Del Potro 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.

“I couldn’t find the right person,” a smiling del Potro said after the match. “But I get closer to them, just asking who was it? But I’m still trying to find the right person. … I wasn’t focused in that moment, so I made the mistake.”

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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