Marco Cecchinato stuns Novak Djokovic to continue improbable Paris run

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Believe it: Marco Cecchinato, who had never won a main-draw match at a Grand Slam tournament before Roland Garros, is into the semifinals after a stunning and scintillating four-set win over Novak Djokovic. (AP)

Nine days after winning his first main-draw match at a major, Marco Cecchinato’s breakthrough run at Roland Garros continued in nail-biting fashion, with the 25-year-old Italian outlasting Novak Djokovic in a stunning and scintillating quarterfinal, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11).

A massive underdog heading into the match, the No.72-ranked Cecchinato came out dominating, ripping 34 winners to just 20 unforced errors to build a two-set lead. Cecchinato's confidence seemed to grow as the rallies grew longer; watch this shotmaking in the second set:

After the two players traded breaks in the first two games of the third set, Djokovic came alive, reeling off nine of the next 10 games to not only take the second set, 6-1, but to also build a 4-1 lead in the fourth. He also earned a point for 5-1.But Cecchinato never gave up on that fourth set, clawing his way back and forcing it to a tiebreak.

The fourth set tie-break was sky-high in drama and quality. On Cecchinato’s first match point, Djokovic hit a picture-perfect drop volley off a down-the-line passing shot. On Cecchinato’s second match point, the Serb rifled a forehand winner. On Cecchinato's third match point, he missed a backhand into the net.

But the fourth time was a charm for Cecchinato, at 12-11, just after Djokovic served out wide on the ad side and came into net. Cecchinato’s down-the-line backhand return dropped in, giving him the biggest win of his career, by far.

Here's how it happened:

The final match time was three hours and 26 minutes, with the fourth-set tiebreaker alone exceeding 20 minutes.

“Maybe I’m sleeping,” Cecchinato said in jest afterward.

“I was two breaks down in the fourth set, and the first two or three match points before the last one I was so tired, but I won the match and it’s just so amazing to beat Novak in the quarterfinals here. For me it’s the first time I’m in the semifinals of a Grand Slam. It’s unbelievable.”

Tennis Channel's analysts tried their best to sum it all up, after the shocking result:

Cecchinato has now won five main-draw matches in a row to become the lowest-ranked Grand Slam semifinalist in almost a since a No.75-ranked Marat Safin and a No.94-ranked Rainer Schuettler reached the final four at Wimbledon 10 years ago. He’s also the first Italian man in 40 years to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam—the last one to achieve the feat was Corrado Barazzutti, at the French Open, in 1978.

Cecchinato is projected to soar into the Top 30 with this result (his current career-high is No.59).

In Friday’s semifinals, Cecchinato will play Dominic Thiem, who defeated Alexander Zverev in his quarterfinal match earlier in the day. They’ve never met on the main tour, though they have played twice at other levels: Cecchinato earned a win at a Futures event in 2013; Thiem won in ATP World Tour qualifying in 2014).

The stakes will be just a bit higher in their third meeting.

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