It is not often in tennis you would see both a success story of an underdog as a case of déjà vu. But following three hours and twenty six minutes of riveting tennis on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Italy’s Marco Cecchinato replicated his brilliant victory from the last round, to stun Novak Djokovic, once again in four sets winning 6-3 7-6 1-6 7-6.
Cecchinato becomes the first Italian to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in exactly 40 years, and at #72 in the world, becomes the lowest-ranked semifinalist at French Open in 19 years.
The man from Palermo planted his winning return on his fourth match point and fell on the red clay with arms covering his teary eyes to celebrate his greatest triumph of his tennis career.
Former World #1 Novak Djokovic called for the trainer following a succession of shoulder and neck pain during the opening two sets. At the beginning of the fourth set, the Serb requested for light massage on his calf.
Cecchinato, who was subject of match-fixing scandal two years ago, and was been handed a point penalty at the start of the fourth set for leaving the court without permission, remained composed throughout.
The fourth set tiebreak–which lasted 20 minutes–was thrilling, tense, and nail-biting. Djokoivc had saved the first match point with a sumptuous volley that kissed the line, and Cecchinato was left wondering whether all the hard work was going down the drain. A set point and a further two match points would be traded before Cecchinato finished off the encounter with a passing shot backhand return as Djokovic attempted to serve and volley.
Prior to the French Open, Marco Cecchinato had never won a Grand Slam match. In fact, at last year’s event, he fell at the final round of qualifying. But having captured his 1st ATP title in the clay courts of Budapest this year, he recorded some notable victories at this year’s French Open, beating the 10th seeded Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round–and more impressively the 8th seeded Belgian David Goffin in the round of 16.
But even with that significant win over Goffin, there was little to suggest that Cecchinato would go toe to toe with Djokovic over five sets. Once the Italian had seen Djokoivc in a spot of bother, he rounded off the opening two sets with a total of 34 winners. Djokovic would get a grip into the match by sweeping off the Italian in the third.
The momentum had shifted into the Serb’s favor during the fourth set. He had break point to take a 5-1 lead in the fourth, but Cecchinato would hold on. Djokovic then attempted to serve for the set, but the Italian showed flashes of brilliance dictating the rallies with his forehand. The ensuing tiebreak was epic. The crowd had grown into the match. While Cecchinato was visibly weary during the tail end of the fourth set, he conserved energy for one last roll of the dice. In his post match on court interview, the Italian was asked to sum his emotions and whether he can believe that he beat Novak Djokovic. He replied, ‘’Are you sure?’’ One thing is certain, Cecchinato did indeed beat the 2016 Roland Garros champion to book a semifinal meeting with Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
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