"For me, the motivation to play here always is high, high as possible", said Nadal after breezing past Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in Friday's semi-finals in what was his 85th win in Paris against just two defeats.
Nadal swept past Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets in his semi-final on Friday, while Thiem overcame surprise package Marco Cecchinato, also in three sets, to reach his first Grand Slam final. Del Potro had forced six break points during the first set but Nadal fended each one off.
The winners of the men's and women's singles finals this weekend will both take home a tournament record €2.2m (£1.9m/$3.1m) for triumphing on the clay at Roland Garros. "He beat me in Madrid, he has big power so I have to be at my best and improve", said Nadal. "If I want to beat him, I have to play that way like I did in Rome and in Madrid".
The 32-year-old Spaniard, with 16 majors to his name, is to play his 24th Grand Slam final at Roland Garros against Dominic Thiem, who is playing his first.
Thiem, the youngest man since Rafael Nadal to reach the final in Paris, reflected afterwards on the turning point of the afternoon as he ended Cecchinato's improbable fairy tale.
"Unfortunately, I was not able to convert my break points".
Nadal tightened his grip, going to 5-1 on another double break in the third set and sealed the match when Del Potro hit a backhand long.
And the only man to beat Nadal on clay previous year was Thiem.
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"It's a very nice feeling to come through that and make the final here for the first time".
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"If I had lost [that set], it would have been a very close match", Thiem said.
"Thiem is an awesome player".
The 24-year-old Thiem was the last player to get the better of Nadal, too, last month at the Madrid Open.
Del Potro made a strong start despite appearing to damage his hip, but faded on a warm afternoon as the outstanding world No. 1 stayed on course for a 17th major success.
And the first set was indeed tight, even with del Potro calling for the trainer at 2-3.
Injuries have hindered the Spaniard's Wimbledon campaigns in recent years but assuming he comes through Sunday's final unscathed he could yet mount an assault on the All England Club title he has won twice before.
"He's a big favorite against everybody", Thiem said of Nadal.
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. Thiem got to 10-all with a drop shot of his own. Last year, he took the trophy without dropping a set.
"That was definitely the key", Cecchinato said.