One day, one epic match: Cecchinato - Djokovic (quarter-final 2018)

 - Danielle Rossingh

Relive this great quarter-final between Marco Cecchinato and Novak Djokovic at Roland-Garros 2018.

Marco Cecchinato after his victory against Novak Djokovic at Roland-Garros 2018©Julien Crosnier / FFT invites you to experience the 2020 tournament on the original dates by looking back at some of the most memorable matches from the past, round by round. Today, Wednesday 3 June, we go back to a pulsating rollercoaster of a match: Novak Djokovic’s shock loss to Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals in 2018.

The context

Djokovic, the 2016 champion, had entered Roland-Garros as the world No 22 after he missed the second half of the previous season with an elbow injury. Bidding to reach his first major semi-final in almost two years, the match between the Serb, a 12-time Grand Slam winner, and his occasional training partner from Italy looked straightforward on paper. Although Djokovic had suffered early exits in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid during the European clay-court swing that spring, he had played himself into form at Roland-Garros, losing just one set to reach his 12th quarter-final.

The 72nd-ranked Cecchinato, on the other hand, had never even won a Grand Slam main draw match before Roland-Garros. But he had arrived in Paris brimming with confidence after winning his first title, as a lucky loser, in Budapest.

Novak Djokovic during the match against Marco Cecchinato at Roland-Garros 2018©Julien Crosnier / FFT

The match

Played on a raucous Court Suzannne-Lenglen, Djokovic struggled with neck and leg problems as he dropped the first two sets and received treatment from the trainer. The former world No 1 then rallied to take the third set for the loss of just one game. But all hopes of a Djokovic comeback win were dashed in the fourth set when he failed to serve out the set at 5-3 and squandered three set points in a thrilling tiebreak. 

Cecchinato kept a cool head, outplaying Djokovic with aggressive baseline play and deft drop shots. The crowd went wild when the Italian managed to win a 20-shot rally with a volley at 8-7. Djokovic sunk to the clay in frustration and clasped his hands after missing a forehand at 9-8. Cecchinato eventually closed out the match 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 7-6  on his fourth match point with a stunning backhand return winner as Djokovic rushed to the net. Cecchinato was not only the first man from Italy to reach the last four in Paris since 1978, he also became the lowest-ranked Roland-Garros semi-finalist in 19 years.

What they said

I had a lot of courage, especially toward the end of the tiebreaker,” said Cecchinato. “I was cool. Clear-headed. My heart was beating 1,000 mph. It wasn’t easy. My hand was even shaking a little.

On the winning match point, he said: “When I saw my return hit the line it was the best moment of my life.

Marco played amazing and credit to him. Congratulations for a great performance,” a terse Djokovic said in a packed news conference.

He held his nerves amazingly well in important moments. I struggled from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took me time to get going, and I struggled with a little injury at the beginning.

Marco Cecchinato during his quarter-final against Djokovic at Roland-Garros 2018©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Match stats

Djokovic struck only three winners in the first set.

Cecchinato played better on the points that mattered, converting four out of 10 breakpoints, compared with six out of 17 for Djokovic.

What happened next ?

Djokovic had surprised reporters in Paris by saying he wasn’t sure if he would play Wimbledon. But the Serb quickly regrouped and was in fine form on the grass a few weeks later, winning his 13th Grand Slam title by beating South African Kevin Anderson in the final at the All England Club. In fact, after his stinging defeat to Cecchinato, Djokovic won five of the next seven Grand Slam titles, and is now just three shy of Roger Federer’s record.  

Cecchinato faced Dominic Thiem for a spot in his first Grand Slam final. But the powerful baseline game and the experience of the Austrian, a semi-finalist at Roland-Garros in the two previous years, ended Cecchinato’s fairytale run in straight sets. His confidence boosted, Cecchinato won another clay-court title after Roland-Garros and broke into the world’s top 20 at the end of the 2018 season. But since rising to a career-high ranking of No 16 in February 2019, he has struggled with his form and has dropped out of the top 100.  

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