Dominic Thiem probably didn’t expect to take on world No. 72 Marco Cecchinato in the semi-finals of Roland Garros when he initially saw his draw.
But the Italian, who had never won a Grand Slam main draw match prior to this fortnight, has shocked the tennis world by posting five victories in Paris, including one over Novak Djokovic (arguably the match of the tournament so far).
Thiem eased past an ailing Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals on Tuesday while Cecchinato stunned David Goffin and Djokovic in back-to-back four-setters to hit a new career milestone.
A maiden Grand Slam final awaits the winner of the clash between Thiem and Cecchinato on Friday at the French Open.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
It’s hard to get enthusiastic about what would have been an incredible dark horse story for Cecchinato due to the fact that he was found guilty of match-fixing in 2016 but then later got acquitted due to a technicality during his appeal. More can be found on this here.
Cecchinato has refused to discuss this topic throughout these two weeks in Paris. And while his wins at this tournament — especially the one against Djokovic — and in Budapest, where he captured his maiden ATP title as a lucky loser, are admirable, one cannot ignore the dark cloud of serious match-fixing allegations hovering over him.
This is Thiem’s third consecutive semi-final appearance at Roland Garros and the odds are stacked in his favour to make a first Grand Slam final. The No. 7 seed is looking to become just the second Austrian player — man or woman — to make a major final, following Thomas Muster.
NUMBERS FAVOUR DOMINIC
Thiem has not lost a clay court match to a player ranked as low as No. 72 Cecchinato since falling to No. 421 Jurgen Melzer in the second round at 2016 Kitzbuhel.
He has never lost a player ranked as low as Cecchinato at Roland Garros – the lowest-ranked player to defeat him here is No. 23 Pablo Cuevas in the second round in 2015.
Thiem enters this semi-final carrying a nine-match winning streak, having claimed the title in Lyon in the week prior to the French Open.
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID
Thiem on how different he feels this year compared to the last two times he made the semis here:
“I think this year I’m physically and mentally fresher than I have been the last two years. I know how to handle a Grand Slam now, how to handle — to get that deep in such a tournament, and I think everything gets better with experience.”
Thiem on his semi-final opponent:
“Cecchinato is full of confidence, probably the most confident player out there right now. He never won a match at a Slam, and now he’s in the semi-finals. So everything is going easy for him. He can play completely free.”
Cecchinato on his surprise run to the last-four:
“I think it’s changed the life. So after Roland Garros, I need some rest and to realize the moment, and we will see my life.”