Marco Cecchinato is 25 years old. Until this week, he had never won a match at a major—first-round losses in all four tries. Until last month, his biggest splash on tour might have been a 2016 suspension for match-fixing, later overturned on appeal. At No. 72 in the world, he has become the lowest-ranked man to make the French Open semifinal since 1999. His route there today cut through two top-10 seeds and a 12-time major champion: Pablo Carreño Busta, David Goffin, and most impressively, Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11).
When talking about Novak Djokovic these days, it’s important to specify which Novak Djokovic has showed up, because they seem to change with the passing seasons. There was the Djokovic of the early hard courts, fresh off an elbow “intervention” and getting bounced by players outside the top 50 with some regularity. Then there was the Djokovic who began to find his feet on the European clay, racking up two confidence-bolstering wins against an evenly matched Kei Nishikori, eventually playing well enough to even give Rafael Nadal a respectable fight in Rome. The Djokovic of this week is nowhere near his world-beating peak. But he is closer to it than he has been since, maybe, late 2016, and in this injury-depleted field, he doesn’t have to be, anyway. Even today, after dropping a sloppy first set and a close second set in a tiebreak, he won 11 of the next 14 games. After skating through the third and running up 4-1 in the fourth, Djokovic seemed poised to win a dull five-setter. That was Cecchinato’s cue to wake up.
Break after break gave way to a fourth-set tiebreak worth watching in its entirety. After 6-6, every other point was Cecchinato’s match point or Djokovic’s set point, and the quality of play surged to hilarious levels to match the pressure. Djokovic can at least take some solace in the fact that he constructed ridiculous points under crushing pressure, and for just a taste, here’s what he did facing his first match point:
The next point was no less absurd:
On the fourth match point, Djokovic ambled in for a serve-and-volley. Pushed well off the court, Cecchinato swung his one-hander, rolling the ball right over his opponent’s head and into the back corner, and collapsed in tears. Lately the Serbian great has been giving a lot of people the best days of their lives. (His side of things looked much more like a low, as he ducked out of an unusually brief press conference in a side room and said he wasn’t sure if he’d even play the upcoming grass season.) It was just in April that Cecchinato won his first-ever title on tour, at a tournament three tiers down from the one he’s in right now. Now, improbably, it’s the second week of Roland Garros and he has to beat Dominic Thiem to make the final.