Who is RG quarter-finalist Marco Cecchinato?
The 2016 champion’s resurgence continues as he sees off Fernando Verdasco on Chatrier.
Style note on players staging a career resurgence in Paris this year: black and red are the statement kit colours to be seen in. Novak Djokovic may not be wearing a catsuit, but his progress through the draw is continuing apace.
Whatever the 12-time Grand Slam champion's troubles since he lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires two years ago, he nonetheless won through to his ninth consecutive quarter-final by seeing off Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 6-2 on Sunday evening.
He will meet the world No.72 Marco Cecchinato for a place in the last four – a stage Djokovic has not reached at Grand Slam level since the 2016 US Open.
“It’s quite an achievement to get to the quarters of a Slam for me, especially considering all the [injury] circumstances that I was in during the last 15 months,” he said. “I always try to build my form in order to peak at the Slams.
“Rome was the best tournament I have played so far this year, and now Roland-Garros is probably even better. Hopefully it's going to get better still. I have been many, many times in the quarters of Roland-Garros and all the Slams, and of course I do appreciate it, considering it's a different kind of situation for me. But I don't want to stop here.
“I don't know how close I am to playing the level of tennis I want to be playing. I don't really think about that. I'm just taking one match at a time, and considering I played almost four hours last match, I felt pretty good physically. I won in three sets against a player who is in form, especially on this surface. So that's all positives for now.”
These are reasonable statements, of course. On the back of his run to the semi-finals in Rome, this current spell of form is his most solid in a long time. On the one hand, that fact serves only to demonstrate how far he has drifted from the invincibility of old; but on the other, the only way to plot his journey back up the ladder is one rung at a time, and each successful step should be celebrated.
But it is impossible to overlook that Cecchinato is the lowest-ranked quarter-finalist here in 10 years. Even allowing for the fact that Djokovic himself is seeded 20th, his lowest-ever here and his lowest at any Slam since the 2006 US Open when he was aged 19, the gods appear to be smiling on his chances of making the last four.
“I have known Marco for many years, and practised with him many times in Monte Carlo where I live and he trained, including this year. I know his game and I watched him play. For sure, he's playing the tennis of his life," Djokovic noted.
“He won his first title recently. Congratulations to him for a great tournament. Even though he's not a seeded player, he's still in the quarter-finals. He deserves respect and he's got nothing to lose in our next match. So I'll approach it very seriously.”
The win over Verdasco was Djokovic’s 200th Tour-level victory on the red dirt and his sixth successive triumph over the Spanish left-hander, who last beat him eight years ago. Other than a trade of breaks in the second set, Verdasco - apparently hindered by blisters on his left foot - was unable to exert a challenge in this match.