Rafael Nadal began the French Open by complaining the about the size of the balls being used and fretting over the likely weather conditions.
He ends the second week in that most familiar of positions – back in the final having navigated his way through one of his trickier fortnights in Paris.
Only on Sunday the stakes will be arguably even higher than before. If he can find a way past Novak Djokovic or Stefanos Tsitsipas he will equal Roger Federer’s total of 20 Grand Slam titles.
Rafael Nadal once again showed his class as he eased into Sunday’s French Open final
Diego Schwartzman, who defeated US Open champion Dominic Thiem, lost in straight sets
A tiebreak sealed victory and Nadal let out a roar after reaching his 13th French Open final
The 34-year-old Spaniard is a master of bringing himself to the boil at just the right time in the Majors, and on Friday he looked like he was peaking at just the right time in subduing the challenge of Diego Schwartzman, beating him 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 on a relatively clear day at Roland Garros.
He was followed on court by Djokovic, who on Friday night taking on the No 5 seed from Greece.
Equalling Federer is finally within sight, and with the 39-year-old Swiss sitting out the season with injury Nadal has reached the final without having lost a set for the sixth time. Federer probably would have felt helpless anyway, as his days of hoping the win Paris are gone.
This is what Nadal has been aiming for, long before that pre-tournament press conference when, not for the first time, he tried to dampen down expectation about what would come in the next fortnight.
Schwartzman worked hard but struggled against Nadal’s serve in a 6-3, 6-3. 7-6 defeat
Nadal (pictured) is now firmly on course for his thirteenth singles title at Roland Garros
Winning Roland Garros for an astonishing 13th time – he has never lost in the final – is what he has been shooting towards ever since he announced the decision to skip the US Open on August 4.
All roads have always led to Paris for Nadal, and he knew the surest way of adding to his 19 Major titles would be to focus on the place that has always been his banker.
The journey this time was not always smooth, especially when there has been an Italian connection.
It was Schwartzman who beat him in Rome at the Italian Open in the build-up to this fortnight. Then it was Italian teenager Jannik Sinner who caused him some serious discomfort late on Tuesday evening, threatening to win both the first and second sets.
As he pointed out, this was not the same as when he met the Argentinian earlier in the month: ‘I think different scenario, first of all. Second thing, I think I am little bit more prepared here, no? Rome was my first event after six months, and Diego was the first challenge. The conditions out there today have been one of the best of the tournament, it was 16 degrees, not much wind. I think the feeling is better.
‘Is important to go through all the process. You have to suffer. You can’t pretend to be in a final of Roland Garros without suffering. That’s what’s happened here.’
Nadal on clay is one of sport’s toughest tasks as he’s never lost a semi-final at the French Open
Nadal once again has shown that there is almost no more difficult task in any sport than beating him on a clay court, never more so than in the French capital.
He had learned from his previous defeat to Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentinian who earlier in the week had taken out the player who looked to be the greatest threat, Dominic Thiem.
This time the Mallorcan served much better and was more aggressive in facing an opponent who was entitled to feel weary after his much longer time spent on court over the course of the two weeks.
The first game took 14 minutes to complete as 5’7′ Schwartzman, who uses a longer racket to compensate for his short levers, happily traded strokes. Breaks were exchanged before Nadal loosened up and gradually asserted his superiority.
His opponent on Sunday will, however, be heartened by the way he looked to tire in the third and was pulled back from 4-2 up. Schwartzman played like he had nothing to lose until there was, eventually, something on the line. In the tiebreak he began slowly and then messed up a simple overhead at 0-3, effectively sealing his fate.
Given his extraordinary record on the Philippe Chatrier Stadium it takes someone brave to wager against Nadal. But this is autumn rather than late Spring, and less purchase on his shots in the slower conditions means gaining a 100th match win in Paris will not be straightforward.
Sebastian Nadal (top left) was among those inside Philippe Chatrier to watch his son excel