First he was infamous. A young Italian toiling in tennis’ minor leagues, Marco Cecchinato was suspended for 15 months in 2015 and fined $43,000. His suspension was reduced. He served his time. Then he was almost invisible. He played in tennis’ nether land – good enough to keep playing, but not good enough to make a real mark. Coming into Roland Garros he was ranked No. 72 and hadn’t won a single Grand Slam match in four tries.
Then, lightning struck – Marco got his 15 minutes of tennis fame. He downed the much-celebrated lucky loser Marco Trungelliti. He won against the considerable Belgian David Goffin, the No. 8 seed. Then he prevailed in the quarterfinals, winning one of the greatest tiebreaks in memory. Despite the brilliant backhand volleys by Novak Djokovic, despite the fact that Djokovic, the No. 20 seed, had won 12 more Grand Slams than he had, Cecchinato prevailed, in a fierce three-and-a half-hour battle that will long be remembered.
But in the semis, the fast-rising 25-year old was arguably facing the second best clay-courter in the world, who is said to be Roland Garros’ prince-in-waiting, a man who just might prevail when Rafa eventually leaves the Parisian stage.
After dropping a tight first set 7-5, the Italian pushed Dominic Thiem in yet another compelling tie-breaker in the second set. Fans chanted “Marco, Marco.” He played from all corners of the court, flashed his beautiful, free-flowing one-handed backhand and hit inspired drop shots. Thiem botched a key volley, but when he was down a set point he hit a clutch second serve on the line – high drama. Cecchinato saved four set points, but could not convert when he had chances. Thiem won the tie-break. Cecchinato’s level crashed and he quickly fell 6-4, 7-6 (12-10), 6-1.
Thiem now has the most wins on tour this year – 35. He’s the youngest Roland Garros finalist since Rafa in 2010 and only the second Austrian to reach a Grand Slam final – Tomas Muster won the 1995 French Open. The only thing that stands in Thiem’s way now is the best clay-court player of all time.