the Italian had already surpassed his expectations by winning his first main draw round in a Grand Slam, including dashing the hopes of the much-celebrated lucky loser Marco Trungelliti, before claiming the scalp of No. 8 seed David Goffin.
Cecchinato had the upper-hand early in the first set swiftly jumping out to a 4-1 lead and keeping his advantage to take the first set. In a tighter second set and after having a medical timeout to have his neck and shoulder treated, Djokovic failed to capitalise on three set points, and was edged out in the tie-break for the Italian to take a two-set lead.
There were even more bizarre scenes after Cecchinato collected a point penalty for leaving the court without permission to get new shoes, as Djokovic took advantage of a dip in the Italian’s form to ease the deficit back.
From there it looked like a foregone conclusion with Djokovic swiftly jumping out to his own 4- lead in the fourth set, but Cecchinato began to work his way back into the match before forcing a thriller of a tie-break.
Momentum shifts saw Cecchinato miss a first match point, but Djokovic fail to take three set points. The Italian finally came good on his fourth try courtesy of a Djokovic error to become lowest ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist since No. 100 Andrei Medvedev reached the last four in Paris, in 1999.
We are all used to players coming in straight after a loss to get the whole press conference over and done with. We are even used to them being terse, but Djokovic point blank refused to go into the main room, where the press conference would be recorded and filmed for the tournament and for transcripts to be produced.
Instead they had to rely on dictaphone coverage, as Djokovic barely answered any questions, declaring that he did not know if he would play on the grass.
He said: “He played amazing and credit to him. Congrats for a great performance. He came out very well.
“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 chances in the 4-1 in the fourth set and some break points that I thought I had in there, but he came back and credit to him.”
So, about the grass?
Djokovic traditionally does not play any of the warm-up events on grass, but last year came to Eastbourne (an ATP 250) to prepare after issues with his elbow throughout last season. They would ultimately cause his Wimbledon campaign to end prematurely, along with his season.
When asked when he would first look to play in grass, he replied: “I don’t know if I’m going to play on grass.”
There is no doubt he felt that the tide had turned in his come-back while on the clay. He had a great tournament in Rome and looked to be playing himself well into form here.
He concluded: “Any defeat is difficult in the Grand Slams, especially the one that, you know, came from months of build-up. And I thought I had a great chance to get at least a step further but wasn’t to be. That’s the way it is.”
The likelihood is of course he will play on grass. The clay court always felt like it had come just a little too soon for him, but that come the grass he would be ready, with quality matches under his belt.
The men’s semi-finals at Roland Garros will take place on Friday.
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