Cecchinato On Djokovic Upset: 'I Think It's Changed My Life'
Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. ATPTour.com this week reflects on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.
Novak Djokovic and Marco Cecchinato entered the 2018 Roland Garros quarter-finals on completely different ends of the experience spectrum. But that didn’t stop the surprise Italian from springing a memorable upset on the Parisian clay.
Cecchinato, the No. 72 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, arrived in France without a Grand Slam main draw win. The 25-year-old had tried to qualify for the clay-court major three times, failing on each occasion. Djokovic, however, won the 2016 Roland Garros title and was competing in his ninth straight quarter-final at the tournament.
“This is the best moment of my life,” Cecchinato said after beating David Goffin in the fourth round. “Maybe it’s a dream.”
Cecchinato admitted that before playing the biggest match of his life he had nothing to lose. On the other hand, there was plenty of pressure on Djokovic.
The Serbian underwent right elbow surgery after the 2018 Australian Open, and he lost eight of 15 matches leading into Roland Garros. That made Djokovic hungry for a big result, and drawing Cecchinato in the quarter-finals seemed a good opportunity for the World No. 22 to reach the last four.
But Cecchinato stunned the former champion 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) to continue his dream run.
“I think it's changed [my] life,” Cecchinato said of his efforts on the terre battue.
Cecchinato and Djokovic were familiar with each other from practising together in Monte Carlo. But while the Serbian was playing in his 40th Grand Slam quarter-final, Cecchinato was experiencing the pressure of the moment for the first time.
“He didn't seem to be under the impression of the big stadium or big match,” Djokovic said. “He just held his nerves amazingly well in the important moments.”
Cecchinato, who had won his first ATP Tour title a month earlier in Budapest, appeared the more comfortable player as he earned a two-set lead. But Djokovic, still working himself into form, found rhythm and breezed through the third set and earned an early break in the fourth.
The stage was set for Djokovic to complete a tremendous comeback to show the world that he was “back”. Instead, Cecchinato saved three set points in the ensuing tie-break with great defence before hitting a backhand winner to clinch the biggest win of his career.
“We shared a moment after my victory. Novak is a very good person and is unbelievable,” Cecchinato said of the pair’s nice post-match embrace. “He told me, ‘Congrats, man, and it’s unbelievable for you, and good luck.’ It’s a dream for me.”
Cecchinato kept his semi-final against Dominic Thiem tight in the first two sets, but succumbed in three. For Djokovic, however, the loss served as a wake-up call, as he reached the final of the Fever-Tree Championships and then won Wimbledon.
“It's never been hard for me to congratulate and hug an opponent that we just shared a great moment on the court. And the one that won deserved to win the match, and that was Marco today,” Djokovic said. “On the other hand, when you walk off the court, of course, it's a hard one to swallow.”