Rafael Nadal said his French Open semi-final win over Diego Schwartzman on Friday was his best match of the tournament but stressed he still needs to improve if he is to capture a record-extending 13th Roland Garros title.
The 34-year-old Nadal saw off a dogged Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/0) to leave him one victory away from equalling Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slams.
The Spaniard will meet world number one Novak Djokovic or Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s championship match.
“I’m in a final, I haven’t lost a set, although it’s true there have been other times at Roland Garros where I have felt better,” said Nadal.
“The conditions are not perfect for my style nor for my impact on the ball, so it means a lot to be where I am.”
Nadal registered his 99th win in Paris since his 2005 debut, losing lost just twice in 16 appearances. A wrist injury forced him to withdraw from the 2016 edition.
“I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday is not enough. I need to make another one. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Nadal made amends for his loss to Schwartzman in Rome last month, the first time the Argentine had defeated him in 10 attempts.
The 14th-ranked Schwartzman had knocked out US Open champion Dominic Thiem to reach his first major semi-final but found Nadal a hurdle too steep on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“The situation is different. I was more prepared here, Rome was my first tournament after six months,” said Nadal.
“Today that experience helped me to be careful. I tried to play with a plan, with determination, and the strategy was the right one.”
Nadal has defeated Djokovic three times in the Roland Garros final, in 2012, 2014 and 2015, but believes his previous successes will count for little if the pair meet again on Sunday.
“Different circumstances, different kind of tournament and different situation, no?” he said.
“I can’t predict the future. The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, situation is very difficult.”