After so much talk about so many reasons why this pandemic-postponed French Open could be more difficult for him - cooler autumn weather, slightly heavier tennis balls, lack of match preparation - Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, is right back where he usually is: in the final.
And this time, in addition to closing in on an unfathomable 13th championship at Roland Garros, Nadal gets a chance to tie Roger Federer for the men's record of 20 Grand Slam titles.
Nadal defeated 12th-seeded Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-3 7-6 (0) Friday in a semi-final filled with gruelling, grinding points.
Yet, as has been the case for years, Nadal didn't want to address the idea of pulling even with Federer, saying it's fine for others to talk about such matters. His focus remains squarely on the task at hand.
"I'm playing the most important tournament of the year - that's what motivates me," Nadal insisted.
Nadal improved to 99 wins and only two losses at the French Open, including a combined 25-0 in semifinals and finals, as he seeks a fourth consecutive title in Paris.
That would add to the 34-year-old Spaniard's previous streaks of four in a row from 2005-08 and five from 2010-14, to go along with four trophies at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.
He has won all 15 sets he's played over the past two weeks, making a mockery of the supposed explanations for why this year, so different for so many reasons, might be different for Nadal in the City of Lights.
One line of thinking involved the shift in dates from May-June to September-October. Another had to do with Nadal's decision to skip the U.S. Open, leaving him with only three matches since tennis resumed in August from its pandemic-forced hiatus.
Yet another involved Schwartzman, a 28-year-old from Argentina. He upset Nadal in straight sets on clay at the Italian Open last month. But that still left their head-to-head ledger at 9-1 in Nadal's favor, and he showed why Friday.
"He improved," Schwartzman said, comparing these past two encounters with Nadal. "And I just played little bit worse."
"It's 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 happened there," Nadal said about the tight third set. "But I found a way, no?"
Doesn't he always?