Dominic Thiem  v Marco Cecchinato | H2H: 1-1 (Futures and Qualifying)
Perhaps now we are seeing who might be the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal when he gets tired of monopolising Roland Garros. While Alexander Zverev was trying to convince everyone, he was still in tip top shape, having battled through three back-to-back fine-setters, his body had other ideas, as did Dominic Thiem.
Thiem pulled his wounded friend wide and forward to exploit his albeit improved movement on the court and coupled with a hamstring strain that manifested itself early in the first set, Thiem emerged a step closer to making his Grand Slam final debut, now just a match away.
However, while he might have been gearing up to face Novak Djokovic, who had been making some progression towards the competitor he once was, he was undone by Marco Cecchinato, who can cut a somewhat controversial figure.
The Italian had never won a main draw match at a Grand Slam before this tournament. He was the one who ended the fairytale run of Marco Trungelliti, the lucky loser way down the list after a raft of withdrawals hit the tournament in its early days.
Yet a slight cloud hangs over him, two years after having been embroiled in a match-fixing controversy. In 2016 the Italian Tennis Federation had deemed he was guilty of match-fixing during an ATP Challenger event in Morocco, banning him from the sport for 18 months. The Italian denied that he and a fellow player (Riccardo Accardi) had bet on Cecchinato to lose a match. An independent tribunal reduced the ban 12 months before the Italian Olympic Committee overturned it completely because of irregularities in terms of how that evidence had been gathered.
After his acquittal he returned to the tour, and since 2017 he usually plies his trade on the Challenger Circuit, but his clay court runs this year have been impressive. He came through Monte Carlo qualies for a couple of rounds before winning Budapest coming through qualies as well.
However his run here has been remarkable. He took out the No. 8 seed David Goffin, before he stunned No, 20 seed and former champion Djokovic in four sets, including a roller-coaster ride of a fourth set tie-break.
So what is it about his game that drove Djokovic nuts? He plays aggressively and will look to take the ball early to take time away from Thiem, and as we saw, he can keep going. Points that would usually be winners against anyone else came back in spades.
Thiem also plays aggressively from the baseline, has solid groundstrokes and we could be in for the battle of the single hand-ed backhands. Much like Cecchinato, Thiem has a habit of outlasting his opponents and moreover he knows he has the game to beat players like Nadal, and having already done so once this season on the clay, he must surely fancy his chances to end the Italian’s dream run.
We suspect adrenaline and free-hitting could earn Cecchinato at least a set, but ultimately this is Thiem’s chance to make a statement and make his own Slam breakthrough.
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