In what proved an extraordinary day in the men’s draw, two of the favourites were beaten at the quarter final stage, the biggest surprise being Novak Djokovic’s defeat at the hands of the unseeded world No.72, Marco Cecchinato.
To everyone’s astonishment, the Italian who had never won a match in a Grand Slam prior to this year, leapt into a two-set lead as the Serbian, a 12-time major champion, initially struggled to make an impression on his rampant opponent.
While Djokovic, who required attention to his neck midway through the first set, managed to make some inroads into Cecchinato’s game in the third when the Italian lost his focus having been warned for coaching and then subsequently docked a penalty point for leaving the court.
I don’t know if I’m going to play on grass, I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just came from the court. Sorry, guys, I can’t give you that answer. Novak Djokovic
The fourth set became a battle royal and it required a marathon tie-break to decide the outcome which finally fell the Italian’s way on his fourth match point, 6-3 7-6(4) 1-6 7-6(11) with a backhand return winner after three hours and 26-minutes.
With that Cecchinato dropped onto his back in astonishment at his achievement.
He had to be told in his on-court interview that he wasn’t dreaming as he asked: “Are you sure?.
“Maybe I’m sleeping. I don’t understand nothing… it’s unbelievable for me,” he continued. “For me, to beat Djokovic in a quarter-final at Roland Garros… it’s amazing.”
Meanwhile Djokoviv’s disappointment having virtually recovered the form that made him so dominant before her had the elbow problems which side-lined him for six months, was evident when he faced the press. His answers were virtually monosyllabic as he cast doubt on whether he would be playing Wimbledon.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play on grass,” Djokovic, told reporters. And when pressed on whether that meant he would not play at Wimbledon, the 31-year-old Serb was non-committal.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just came from the court. Sorry, guys, I can’t give you that answer.
“I cannot give you any answer.”
And he refused to blame any physical problems for his defeat.
“He played amazing and credit to him. Congrats for a great performance. He came out very well,” he said.
“I struggled from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took me time to get well, and struggled with a little injury, as well, at the beginning. And after, when I warmed up, it was better.
“Just a pity that I couldn’t capitalise on the chancesat 4-1 in the fourth set and some break points. I thought I had him there, but he came back and credit to him.”
And when asked if he was now ‘back’ his answer was very specific: “I am back in the locker room. That’s where I’m back!”
Meanwhile his conqueror run at Roland Garros is turning out to be the most unlikeliest ever as the 25-year-old becomes the lowest ranked player to reach the last four in Paris in 19 years and he is also the first Italian to make that stage since Corrado Barazzuti back in 1978!
Whether he can continue his run is now debatable as he will face Dominic Thiem for a place in the final, the Austrian having completed a straight set win over the second seeded Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-2 6-1 to make the last four for the third consecutive year.
The match, which promised so much between two aspiring ‘next generation’ players proved a bit one sided and from that perspective, disappointing.
Zverev, who had come through three fives set marathons, all from two sets to one down, was obviously suffering physical problems and early in the opening set, he had to have his left thigh strapped up to protect his hamstrings.
While the German did find his range Thiem was always in control and never looked threatened.
“It was tough for him today, he’s one of the fittest guys on tour,” Thiem said. “It’s tough to play three five-setters in a row. I hope that we have many more encounters against each other at this stage or even later in a Grand Slam, but when we are 100%.
“It’s great to reach the semi-finals for a third year, but it’s time to take another step and I will do everything for that.”
The stats told much of the story in the clash, with Zverev hitting 42 unforced errors and just 19 winners, as Thiem in the end booked his semi-final spot with the minimum of fuss.
Commenting on his hamstring, Zverev, who had beaten Thiem in the Madrid Masters last month, said: “First time I felt a pull was in the fourth game of the first set, when we had a few great points, a lot of physical points.
“I remember I slid one time, and then I felt a muscle pull. I thought maybe it’s just soreness or something that would just go away. I didn’t think about it too much.
“Then, you know, each game and each slide, I was getting worse and worse. Middle of the second set, the pain was too much.
“I knew I’m not going to win the match. There was no way for me. I could barely move. I couldn’t serve. I couldn’t really do anything.
“I can last very long. I can last five-set matches in a row, how I showed. Unfortunately, an injury held me back.”
Zverev refused to blame his injury on the near 11 hours he had spent on court in his last three rounds. “Actually I felt good today. I mean, waking up in the morning, I actually felt I can play five sets again,” he said. “I thought this is what it’s going to be like. I actually came on court. It was the best I felt the ball. First few games, it was the best I felt the ball all week.”
But he left Roland Garros satisfied. “It showed I’m physically one of the strongest players,” he said. “I can last very long. I can last five-set matches in a row, how I showed. Unfortunately an injury held me back.
“This is a very positive week for me. My first quarter. I lost to a great player. I was hurt a little bit. So who knows? Who knows what could have happened?”