Nadal's backhand was doing most of the damage, with three winners having set up the double break on his way to a two-set lead, and Del Potro was broken to love in his first serve game of the third, with Nadal inflicting a devastating backhand victor up the flank after another majestic defence.
"It's always hard to play someone from your country and such a good friend, but I'm happy I played my tennis", Stephens said. I believe I can be ready for that final.
Cecchinato gained his first lead at 5-4 on a quickfire serve but Thiem rallied back with a timely drop shot to take the first set.
The battle between Thiem and Nadal will be an interesting one to look out for.
However, having squandered one set point, he went in for a simple backhand volley victor only to dump it into the net.
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Nadal may be historically dominant, writes Jack Houghton, but Sunday's final could be a changing-of-the-guard, and an aggressive approach to the Set Betting market is the call.
Thiem, seeded seventh, also swept through his semifinal match, beating unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato, 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1. He's had a brilliant run the entire clay court season, having lost only once, to the same man he'll play the final against.
"That was definitely the key", Cecchinato said.
"The weather, I watched a bit of footage of the (Robin) Soderling victory over Nadal here in 2009".
"If I lost that tie-break it would have been a very close match and I didn't want that".
"The most important thing is that the weapons are there and the physical shape and of course, there is also the mental part", the 24-year-old said.
In Saturday's women's final, number one Simona Halep of Romania will face number 10 Sloane Stephens of the United States.
He probably felt as though he had been, as Nadal completed a devastating 6-4 6-1 6-2 victory.
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Cecchinato mixed it up with drop shots and gradually found his range to set up three break points at 4-3, which Thiem saved thanks to his strong first serve.
At long last, Thiem converted his fifth set point when Cecchinato sent a forehand long.
"If Thiem can do that and build enough hope in the first hour, hour and a half, maybe get the first set he can make it physical like he did in Madrid".
The struggle to answer in French on Friday - he remains much more comfortable in English as a second language - looked a lot more nerve-racking than some of his matches.
The punishment continued, with Thiem by now looking up to his coach and shrugging as another forehand whistled past him.
But the Austrian got nervous and wasted several set points, one of them when he shanked a routine volley at 6-4.
And the underdog soon faded as Thiem kicked on, racing to two swift breaks in the third and rescuing two break points to serve out the match in style.
The pressure continued to tell on the Argentine, who failed to win a point in the opening two games of the third set. But this will be the first time they've met in a Grand Slam final.
Sensational Simona Halep hits back to win first Grand Slam in style
But she climbed back into the top 100 with strong performances at lesser tournaments, then broke out at the U.S. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love to end it.
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