Ranked No.22 and playing at his lowest position since 2006, Djokovic broke early in the third set by ramping up his aggression and precision, while the shots Cecchinato was cracking in over the first two sets began to miss the radar. He cruised through eight consecutive games to dominate the third.
He also led 5-2 in the fourth set and served for it at 5-3, but a tight game culminated with Cecchinato clattering a forehand winner to steal back the initiative and force another tie-break.
It was a truly astonishing period of play, with the shot-making reaching a crescendo. The former world No.1 clipped a remarkable last-ditch backhand volley cross court to glance the line, whilst Cecchinato prevailed in an enthralling 25-shot rally.
“At the start, I think ‘this is Novak’, in the tie-breaks, every set I think, ‘this is Novak,” said Cecchinato, admitting Djokovic’s aura intensified the match. “But I was very focused on every points. I played very, very good points on match point.”
Three Djokovic sets points were surrendered, three Cecchinato match points vanished, but Djokovic eventually darted in to net, at which point Cecchinato dispatched a backhand passing shot winner and fell to the dirt in tears.