French Open | Intriguing matches ahead
As the French Open goes into the second week, the front runners in the bottom half of the draw made the last eight as expected, bar one.
David Goffin, the eighth seed following the conclusion of his marathon match against Gael Monfils the previous day, crashed out to the unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato who now goes on to face Novak Djokovic who in turn, is showing all the signs of regaining his best form to become a strong title contender.
I started the year playing very well, so now this is the best moment of my life because I feel every match is good Marco Cecchinato
Cecchinato had never won a Grand Slam match before this tournament and was best known for having been suspended for 18-months by the Italian Tennis Federation in July 2016 for match fixing but he was subsequently cleared of any involvement. The incident focused on a 2015 second-tier challenger match he lost to Kamil Majchrzak in Morocco. His original suspension was first reduced to 12 months before being rescinded completely to allow him back on the Tour. His fine, of 40,000 Euros, at the time the biggest to be levied for match fixing, was repaid.
The 25-year-old ranked 72, who last April won the Budapest Open a 250 ATP event, defeated Goffin 7-5 4-6 6-0 6-3 for what he described to be ‘the best moment’ of his career having also put out the 10th seeded Pablo Carreno-Busta in the previous round.
“I started the year playing very well, so now this is the best moment of my life because I feel every match is good.”
His run though should come to an end when he faces the 12-time grand slam winner Novak Djokovic who is fast regaining the form he displayed before his enforced injury time out last year with elbow problems. The Serbian, a former world No.1, may well have slipped down the rankings to 22 but he will have halted that with his own run deep into Roland Garros.
“For me it’s amazing. It’s a pleasure playing against Novak in quarter-final at Roland Garros,” the Italian said. “I feel very good, because every match I play very well. Now I beat David Goffin, (who) is one of the best players in the world.”
Djokovic, who would face either second seed Alexander Zverev or Austrian Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals should he beat Cecchinato, hasn’t reached the last four at a Grand Slam since the 2016 US Open.
“I have known of him for many years,” Djokovic said after seeing off Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 6-2 to reach his12th French Open quarter-final.
“I know now his game and I practised with him, I watched him play. For sure, he’s playing the tennis of his life.
“Even though he’s not a seeded player, he’s still in the quarter-final. He deserves respect and he’s got nothing to lose in our next match. So I’ll approach it very seriously.”
Cecchinato is the first Italian to reach the last eight since Fabio Fognini back in 2011 and Fognini, who is still alive and well in the top half, defeat Marin Cilic in Monday’s schedule, it would be the first time Italy had two men in the last eight since 1973.
The second quartet final will feature Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem in what will be a very interesting contest between the two ‘pretenders’ for Rafa Nadal’s crown.
Second-seeded Zverev who is on his best run at a grand slam, reached his first major quarterfinal the hard way, beating Karen Khachanov 4-6 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3 6-3 on Sunday for his third straight comeback win in five sets.
The 21-year-old German showed plenty of passion as he struggled against the young big-hitting and powerful Russian who held a two-sets-to-one lead before eventually being overcome.
For Zverev it was the third consecutive five-setter he has played during the week, recovering on both occasions from similar positions.
“I’m young. I might as well stay on court and entertain you guys,” he said jokingly when interviewed on court. “This definitely paid off, the hours in the gym every day … Everything comes together slowly and I’m happy to be here.”
His next challenge will be overcoming the seventh seeded Austrian Thiem who is one of the fittest players on the men’s circuit and a more experienced player at this stage of the tournament having made the last four these last two years.
Thiem beat the 9th seed Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4 on his second match point when the Japanese No.1 sailed a return long to concede a match to the young Austrian for the first time.
“The first two sets were amazing,” Thiem said.
And looking ahead to what many feel is a virtual semi-final with the winner expected to face Nadal in the championships round on Sunday, he later added: “It’s, I think, the match, especially in Germany and Austria, everybody was hoping for. So I think we can make it legendary and that would be very nice.”
As Thiem was the last man to beat Nadal on clay, (he defeated him in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open when he ended the Spaniard’s run of 50 consecutive sets on clay), he could be said to be the favourite. Zverev on the other hand has won his spurs with three Masters titles and now breaking through the round of 16 for the first time, beat the Austrian in the Madrid Masters final. However Thiem holds a 4-2 record over his young challenger
“It’s going to be a very tough match against him. He’s going to be pumped. It’s his first quarter-finals. So he wants to move on, for sure,” said the 25-year-old Thiem. “So I hope I’m a little bit more experienced in this one.”