Novak Djokovic stunned by 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato at French Open

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after missing a shot against Italy's Marco Cecchinato in the tie break of the fourth set of their quarterfinal match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Updated 05 June 2018
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Novak Djokovic stunned by 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato at French Open

  • Cecchinato came through on his fourth match point, looping in a backhand return winner as Djokovic tried to surprise him with a serve-and-volley attempt
  • Cecchinato has never won a tour-level match on a surface other than red clay

PARIS: Novak Djokovic’s neck was bothering him. Then his right leg was.
The way he faltered at the most crucial of moments in the French Open quarterfinals Tuesday might have hurt him the most against an opponent who never won a Grand Slam match until last week and once was handed a match-fixing suspension later overturned on appeal.
At the site of his 12th and most recent major title, which came two years ago, Djokovic was stunned by 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11) in a rollicking match filled with long points and plenty of drama.
“He held his nerves amazingly well in important moments,” acknowledged Djokovic, who said he isn’t certain whether he will play at Wimbledon.
Djokovic served for the fourth set at 5-3 but got broken. He then held three set points in the tiebreaker but couldn’t convert any.
“It’s a pity I could not capitalize on the chances I had,” Djokovic said.
Cecchinato came through on his fourth match point, looping in a backhand return winner as Djokovic tried to surprise him with a serve-and-volley attempt. Cecchinato, who dropped onto his back on the clay after winning, is the lowest-ranked man to get to the semifinals in Paris in 19 years — and about as unlikely as anyone to get this far at a big tournament.
Told in an on-court interview that he wasn’t dreaming, Cecchinato responded: “Are you sure?“
The 25-year-old from Sicily was suspended for 18 months and fined €40,000 (about $45,000) by his national federation in July 2016, accused of losing on purpose at a lower-tier Challenger event in Morocco a year earlier. Eventually, the Italian Olympic Committee announced that sanctions were dropped on a technicality.
Cecchinato has never won a tour-level match on a surface other than red clay; as it is, he entered this season with a career record of 4-23.
He arrived at Roland Garros with a 0-4 mark in the majors, and dropped the first two sets in the first round before coming all the way back to win 10-8 in the fifth. Since then, employing a smooth one-handed backhand, he has beaten players seeded No. 8 (David Goffin) and No. 10 (Pablo Carreno Busta), before adding former No. 1 Djokovic to his list.
Next up: No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria, who made it to his third consecutive French Open semifinal by beating No. 2 Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 earlier Tuesday.
In the women’s quarterfinals, No. 10 Sloane Stephens beat No. 14 Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-1, and No. 13 Madison Keys eliminated unseeded Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 7-6 (5), 6-4. Stephens beat Keys in the US Open final last September, and their rematch on Thursday will be the first all-American women’s semifinal at the French Open since Serena Williams defeated Jennifer Capriati in 2002.
Cecchinato and Djokovic know each other well: They have practiced together in Monte Carlo, where Cecchinato trains at a tennis academy and Djokovic has a home.
No one, though, could have seen this one coming. Perhaps the most remarkable part of this result was that Djokovic repeatedly failed to close out the fourth set and force a fifth.
Djokovic, who missed the last half of 2017 with right elbow trouble and had surgery in February, is clearly not at the height of his power. Indeed, his seeding of No. 20 was his lowest at any Grand Slam tournament in a dozen years.
Still, Djokovic did appear to be gathering momentum, taking the third set and moving out to a lead in the fourth. He could not do enough to end Cecchinato’s marvelous run, though.


‘If home crowds can’t help you, nothing can’, says golf star Rory McIlroy

Updated 17 July 2019
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‘If home crowds can’t help you, nothing can’, says golf star Rory McIlroy

  • The world number three is the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on Sunday
  • British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951

PORTRUSH, United Kingdom: Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that he is not feeling extra pressure this week as the British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, and is hoping home fans can help him end a five-year major drought.
The world number three is the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on Sunday, despite not having claimed a major title since the 2014 PGA Championship.
He said in the past he struggled being the focus of attention at Irish Opens, although he did win that tournament in 2016.
“I think it’s probably easier this week because it’s such a big tournament,” said McIlroy, who opens his title tilt at Royal Portrush at 0909 GMT on Thursday alongside US Open winner Gary Woodland and England’s Paul Casey.
“You’ve got the best players in the world here, and I don’t feel like I’m the center of attention.
“I’m here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here. But at the same time, I mightn’t get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again.
“I’m really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.
“I’m going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can’t help you, then nothing can.”
McIlroy fired a course-record 61 on the Dunluce Links at the age of just 16 in 2005, and is one of three Northern Irish major champions in the field along with Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
He said his first memories of Portrush came as a child when watching his father play.
“I remember chipping around the chipping green, being seven or eight years of age, my dad out playing on the Dunluce,” added McIlroy, who played a practice round on Tuesday.
“Portrush ... At least the golf club, has been a big part of my upbringing. It’s sort of surreal that it’s here.
“Even driving in yesterday, when you’re coming in on the road and you look to the right and you’ve got the second tee... I don’t know who was teeing off, maybe (American player) Tony Finau and someone else, (it was) sort of strange to see them here.
“But it’s really cool.”
Since McIlroy’s record the course has been renovated, with the seventh and eighth new holes.
But the 30-year-old said he did not have to spend too much time preparing on the course, such is his familiarity with it.
“I had dinner booked with a parent on Saturday night at 8:00, thinking I’m going to have to spend some time around the greens and just prepare.
“And I got on the road back home and rang them and said, ‘Can we move dinner up?’ Because I finished early. There’s no difference. It’s the same golf course.”
McIlroy has been in strong form this year, winning twice, including the Players’ Championship, and posting 11 top-10 finishes.
He also finished in a tie for second at the Open at Carnoustie last year.
“I think it’s probably the most consistent period of golf I’ve ever played,” the 2014 champion said.