Cecchinato vs Thiem: underdog ready to snap at Dominator 

 - Ian Chadband

With his confidence sky high, Cecchinato hopes his Cinderella run continues against three-time semi-finalist Thiem.

Duel Thiem Cecchinato

Marco Cecchinato’s hurtling ascent from Grand Slam nobody to sensational semi-finalist is the most unlikely tale to have gripped Roland-Garros this year and the unseeded Italian sounds determined to ensure the adventure has at least one more unfeasible chapter.

“I would sign with blood to win against Dominic Thiem and reach the final - even if I were to lose against Nadal!” Cecchinato vowed to Italian reporters after his epic quarter-final win over Novak Djokovic, leaving his last-four opponent to reflect that while he will be the overwhelming favourite, he is up against a man riding a tidal wave.

“He is probably the most confident player out there right now," Thiem noted before his third successive Roland-Garros semi-final. “He’d never won a match at a Slam before; now he's in the semi-finals. So everything is going easy for him. He can play completely free.”

Too true. Free and firing. So far, the Sicilian, at No.72 the lowest-ranked man to reach the semis here for 19 years, has been playing with a fearlessness and swashbuckling élan that suggested he might not yet have woken to the enormity of what he was achieving.

“He didn’t seem to be under the impression of the big stadium or the big match. He just held his nerves amazingly well in the important moments,” noted an impressed Djokovic.

Yet afterwards it sounded as if it was finally beginning to dawn on him. “I think it's changed my life. It is tough to talk about my emotions, very tough,” Cecchinato conceded.

But he cannot afford a moment’s navel-gazing with Thiem in his best ‘Dominator’ mode. The fastest server at the tournament at 224km/h, the 24-year-old has been crushing winners from both wings - 164 and counting - and looks ready, after a couple of years of threatening, to graduate to the very top.

Yet Cecchinato is a serious road-block. At 25, he says, it’s as if something has clicked in his head in the last couple of months. He’s suddenly matured, turning into the player he always felt he should be.

Five years ago, he beat the teenage Thiem in a Futures final. “I remember this match and why not?” smiled the Italian, who seemed to have conveniently erased the memory of the Austrian also beating him a year later. Cecchinato, you gather, is infused with nothing but positivity and that spells danger for team Thiem.