This article titled “French Open 2018: Rafael Nadal to face Thiem in final after win over Del Potro – as it happened” was written by Jacob Steinberg (now) and Michael Butler (for a bit), for theguardian.com on Friday 8th June 2018 22.06 Asia/Kolkata
And to get you in the mood for tomorrow’s women’s final, here’s Kevin Mitchell on Stephens v Halep:
I’ll leave you with a quick report on Rafa Nadal’s victory over Juan Martin del Potro. Earlier today Dominic Thiem beat Marco Cecchinato in three sets to reach Sunday’s final. Let’s hope it’s a good one – though it might be wise to expect more drama when Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens meet in the women’s final tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Bye.
Rafael Nadal signs a few autographs and then he’s on his way, off to rest for his 11th French Open final. His opponent on Sunday will be Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who will be playing in his first grand slam final. Thiem has beaten Nadal twice on clay but the Spaniard crushed him in their semi-final here last year. It’s hard to see him pulling it off.
Rafael Nadal, the second man after Roger Federer (Wimbledon) to reach 11 finals at the same grand slam, speaks! “The first set was very difficult. Juan Martin had a lot of opportunities and I was a little bit lucky to win it. It’s incredible to play here. I feel very fortunate to play in front of this crowd. Without working hard and without going through tough moments and without still being focused on your passion of the game, it is impossible to be here. Still being here is something I never dreamed about. Dominic Thiem is an amazing player. He beat me in Madrid this year and he has great power. I have to play my best. I have to improve a little bit. I believe I can be ready for that final. It’s going to be a tough one but I will fight all the way.”
Rafa Nadal pumps his fist, embraces Juan Martin del Potro and accepts the crowd’s love. He was under pressure in the first set but he was never going to be denied after taking the lead. Del Potro gave it his all and he’s given a generous ovation as he walks off court but Nadal was far too good. Again.
Rafael Nadal beats Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2!
There’s no chance of Nadal wobbling, even when he goes to 30-all. He tortures Del Potro with a series of brutal forehands and eventually earns a match point. Del Potro, wearied and battered, hangs his head and takes a deep gulp of air. Nadal serves wide and Del Potro’s return’s called out. That’s it. Rafa Nadal will face Dominic Thiem in his 11th French Open final.
Third set: Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 5-2 Del Potro* (*denotes server): Del Potro holds to love. Nadal will serve for it. “On clay, Nadal now carries the same aura that Borg, Sampras and Federer did when they were winning multiple Wimbledon’s,” says Simon McMahon. “It’s hard to imagine them losing. Indeed, like a prime Mike Tyson or Phil Taylor, or the Scottish football team in 1978, most opponents are beaten before they enter the arena. Maybe Thiem will be different, but I doubt it.”
Third set: Nadal* 6-4, 6-1, 5-1 Del Potro (*denotes server): Nadal holds and moves a game away from his 11th French Open final. The crowd’s dozed off.
Third set: Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 4-1 Del Potro* (*denotes server): This is painful to watch. And kind of dull. Nadal breaks again.
Third set: Nadal* 6-4, 6-1, 3-1 Del Potro (*denotes server): Nadal’s taken to 15-30. THERE’S LIFE IN THIS ONE YET. Del Potro even gets it to deuce. What a titanic battle! Until Nadal holds, that is.
Third set: Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 2-1 Del Potro* (*denotes server): Del Potro holds to love, like it matters at this stage.
Third set: Nadal* 6-4, 6-1, 2-0 Del Potro (*denotes server): Nadal holds to love, whacking a forehand down the line to land another blow on Del Potro.
Third set: Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-0 Del Potro* (*denotes server): Del Potro double-faults and nets a forehand. Nadal has three break points. He nails the first with a backhand down the line.
Rafael Nadal wins the second set 6-1; he leads 6-4, 6-1!
Serving for the set, Nadal shrugs of losing the first point and wins the next three. Two more set points, then, and this time he shows no mercy, taking the first with an accurate serve.
Second set: Nadal 6-4, 5-1 Del Potro* (*denotes server): This time last year the first semi-final between Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka still hadn’t finished. How times change, eh? Now Nadal’s sniffing out a bagel as he moves into a 0-30 lead. A brutal smash makes it 15-40; two set points. But Del Potro, such a fighter, grimly fights to deuce. Somehow he holds and, with more than a hint of irony and self-deprecation, thanks the heavens.
Second set: Nadal* 6-4, 5-0 Del Potro (*denotes server): This is a demolition now.
Second set: Nadal 6-4, 4-0 Del Potro* (*denotes server): Del Potro smashes to save a break point. It feels like the air’s been let out of the ground. Nadal is relentless and Del Potro is toiling, sending another forehand long. Del Potro clings on for a while but Nadal eventually breaks him, spiritually and physically. This is done.
Second set: Nadal* 6-4, 3-0 Del Potro (*denotes server): Hang on! At 30-all, Nadal nets a backhand to give Del Potro his seventh break point. But no. You can relax again. Nadal comes up with a storming forehand winner and goes on to consolidate the break.
Second set: Nadal 6-4, 2-0 Del Potro* (*denotes server): Uh oh. Nadal swiftly earns three break points. Del Potro nets a forehand. Thanks for playing, Juan Martin.
Second set: Nadal* 6-4, 1-0 Del Potro (*denotes server): The challenge for Del Potro is to get over the disappointment of losing that set as quickly as possible. That won’t be easy. Nadal hasn’t made a habit of squandering winning positions and although he’s taken to deuce in this game, he isn’t in danger of being broken.
Rafael Nadal wins the first set 6-4!
All that pressure from Del Potro and now the big Argentinian’s in trouble after a wonderful flicked backhand from a counterpunching Nadal makes it 0-30. Del Potro responds with a trademark forehand for 15-30 but Nadal’s soon clutching two set points after a spinning forehand winner. Del Potro saves the first. But then he nets a backhand. He’s annoyed. You have to admire Nadal’s sense of timing. It’s utterly ruthless from the Spaniard, who’s been on the ropes for much of the first set.
First set: Del Potro 4-5 Nadal* (*denotes server): Del Potro can’t handle the Nadal forehand on the first point and he’s out of position when the Spaniard runs forward to punch a volley away. But Del Potro wins the next point and then he shows sprightly movement to reach a Nadal drop shot and win a battle of wits at the net for 15-30. Then Del Potro kisses the line with a waspish backhand for two break points. This is a huge moment. Nadal, so nerveless, saves the first with a drop shot. There wasn’t much Del Potro could do about that but he looks aghast when he spurns the second break point with a dreadful forehand that sails long and wide for deuce. He has another chance when a Nadal backhand clips the tape and goes wide but this time he frames a forehand and swipes at thin air. Ouch. You can’t keep missing those chances against Nadal, who raps a sharp backhand from right to left before showing deft reflexes at the net to hold. Nadal’s saved six break points in this set but Del Potro will have to serve to keep it alive.
First set: Del Potro* 4-4 Nadal (*denotes server): Del Potro is serving with new balls and he wins the first point. Then he rams a backhand down the line for 30-0. Another hold. Del Potro seems to be over that early injury scare.
First set: Del Potro 3-4 Nadal* (*denotes server): Nadal glides to a comfortable hold.
First set: Del Potro* 2-3 Nadal (*denotes server): The trainer has been and gone. Del Potro trudges on. He decides it’s time for a drop shot. Nadal engages in a dink war but Del Potro has the answers to make it 15-0. The game goes to 40-30. Del Potro holds when Nadal sends a forehand return long.
First set: Del Potro 2-3 Nadal* (*denotes server): If Del Potro’s still hurting, he’s hiding it well. He moves into a 0-30 lead on Nadal’s serve again. Nadal fights back, though, making good use of the drop shot to climb to 30-all. A Del Potro error makes it 40-30 and Nadal holds. Del Potro will seek treatment from the trainer now.
First set: Del Potro* 2-2 Nadal (*denotes server): Del Potro shot a wry smile at his box and shook his head at the end of the previous game. This is a concern. He’s called for the trainer during the next changeover. On we go for now, though. But Nadal will smell blood and he makes it 0-15 with a forehand winner, Del Potro nowhere near it. That said, Del Potro can be a bit of an actor sometimes. He wins the next two points and when it goes to 30-all, he digs deep and finds some forehand winners to hold.
First set: Del Potro 1-2 Nadal* (*denotes server): A punishing rally on the first point ends with Nadal being overpowered and netting a backhand. Nadal’s looking a bit edgy and a wild double-fault at 0-30 hands Del Potro three break points. Nadal saves the first two, though, and then he’s relieved to see Del Potro net a forehand pass on the run. Deuce. Nadal proceeds to wrongfoot Del Potro with a forehand, causing the Argentinian to wince and hold his left hip. Has he stretched something there? Let’s hope not. Nadal holds and Del Potro limps back to his chair.
First set: Del Potro* 1-1 Nadal (*denotes server): Wallop! Clobber! There’s the first big forehand from Del Potro. Then comes a lighter touch, a Murray-esque backhand lob for 30-0. He’s mixing it up well. Another huge forehand – registered at 102mph – makes it 40-0. An ace is enough for a comfortable hold.
First set: Del Potro 0-1 Nadal* (*denotes server): The second men’s semi-final begins with Rafa Nadal serving. Del Potro never beaten Nadal on clay before. You fancy he needs a good start. He makes an authoritative one, crunching into a 0-30 lead, heaving hitting penetrating Nadal’s defence. Nadal wins the next three points, though, and holds with a Cecchinato-esque drop shot.
We’ve had the coin toss. Rafa Nadal will serve first.
Here come the players. Big cheers for both men. Juan Martin del Potro, the gentle giant, is such a popular character. And Rafael Nadal … well, he’s Rafa Nadal.
Hello again. Rafael Nadal has won his past 15 grand slam semi-finals, a run that stretches back to the 2009 US Open. His conqueror at Flushing Meadows? A certain Juan Martin del Potro. That said, Nadal absolutely destroyed Del Potro in four sets at last year’s US Open. It’s a hot day in Paris and Nadal looks virtually unbeatable on clay. How can Del Potro, even with that huge forehand, hope to outlast him over five sets?
So it’s Nadal v Del Potro next up then. Jacob is back from his lunch break and he’ll guide you through the second men’s semi-final. Bye!
So after bowing out at the semi-final stage at Roland Garros in 2016 and 2017, Dominic Thiem reaches his first grand slam final, where he will meet one of Rafa Nadal or Juan Martin del Potro. Remember Thiem is the last person to beat Nadal on clay, when he beat the Spaniard in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open last month, to end Nadal’s run of 25 matches on clay – a 51-week unbeaten stretch.
Clay is definitely Thiem’s best surface, he has a 75% winning rate on it compared to a 54% winning rate on hard courts. Many have had Nadal as certain for the title here since Djokovic went out, but whoever comes through the second semi-final, it’s not going to be easy against the Austrian.
“I think the big key was the second set because it was a close tie-break. I saved two set points and luckily I won it. It was 6-4 and the one thing I wanted to do was win the set and I missed an easy volley at one moment which was not a nice feeling.”
“It’s very important to regenerate, and have a good breakfast tomorrow. I’ll study my opponent, whoever it is, and then full power on Sunday!”
Cecchinato heads straight off court to rapturous applause. What a brilliant tournament he’s had, he should move up towards the top 20 with what he’s done here, 27th is what some people are saying. The Italian has been a pleasure to watch, particularly those drop shots. Will be interesting to see how he adapts his game on grass. I suspect he has the game to do well, if he can keep this confidence high.
Thiem beats Cecchinato 7-5, 7-6, 6-1 to reach the French Open final!
Third set: Cecchinato 5-7, 6-7, 1-6 Thiem* (*denotes server): You know what I said about Thiem’s backhand not being that graceful? I take it back, he’s ripped a gorgeous inside-out shot right into the far left corner. Postage-stamp stuff. That said, Thiem is 15-30 down, and an error gives Cecchinato two break points! Signs of life! Thiem saves the first with relentless hitting from one side to the other, then wins the other with Cecchinato so tired from the previous point that he can just return a second serve into the net. At deuce, you sense that’s Cecchinato’s final chance gone. Thiem makes no mistake, picking up a cheap point to go to match point and then again battering an exhausted Cecchinato from side to side before a simple forehand winner. Thiem wins!
Third set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 6-7, 1-5 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato is on the board in this third set. But there is only muted applause. Thiem looked as though he was saving his energy for the next service game, batting a backhand into the tramlines to give the Italian some respite.
Third set: Cecchinato 5-7, 6-7, 0-5 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem makes his first mistake in 10 points with a loose forehand. 15-30 down, he then rips a huge serve down the T for an ace. Cecchinato does well to come to the net and set up a smash, but he can only cannon it into the net. The Italian’s face is expressionless, his previously animated supporters silent in the stands. One final error from Cecchinato gives Thiem his fifth straight game. However, Cecchinato has fallen apart here, it’s been impressive the professional way Thiem has picked him off, hitting winners when he needed to, as well as percentage shots to let Cecchinato make his own mistakes. Tactically very astute, this.
Third set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 6-7, 0-4 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato’s legs are gone, and he’s now playing ambitious would-be winners, but with his feet in a lazy position. The footwork just isn’t there. One shot goes wide, the other into the net. Four straight points for Thiem, and the Austrian breaks to love. This match looks over.
Third set: Cecchinato 5-7, 6-7, 0-3 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem wins the game to love. It’s a radically different game to the one we enjoyed at the end of the second set. Cecchinato may have the more graceful one-handed backhand – Gasquet-esque – but Thiem’s is flatter and more powerful. Cecchinato doesn’t look like he can handle the power – he’s mentally flat – and can only watch as Thiem floats a beautiful lob on the gallop just inside the baseline to close out the game.
Third set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 6-7, 0-2 Thiem (*denotes server): Thiem races into a 3-0 lead and has a half-chance to break, but two sloppy errors lets the Italian back into the game. It goes to deuce with Cecchinato failing with an ill-advised drop shot that finds the net. Another poor slice gives break point to Thiem, and the Austrian makes no mistake! Thiem breaks at the first time of asking with the cutest of drop shots. Cecchinato in real danger of falling away here.
Third set: Cecchinato 5-7, 6-7, 0-1 Thiem* (*denotes server): Cecchinato somehow survives at the net, two sublime defensive volleys keep him in the rally, before Thiem inexplicably hits one wide down the line. At 15-30 down, Cecchinato has his first point, before Thiem powers down two unreturned serves to close out the first game of the third set.
Hello everyone. What a tie-break that was. Sitters were missed, drop-shots were, er, dropped, and nerves were frayed. Cecchinato showed great mental strength against Djokovic, but he may be in too deep here. He’s got to win the next three sets to make the French Open final. Let’s see if he can do it – Thiem to serve first.
I’m going to get some lunch before Nadal v Del Potro. Michael Butler will guide you through the third set.
Dominic Thiem wins the second set 7-6; he leads 7-5, 7-6!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 10-12 Thiem* (*denotes server): This is Thiem’s fifth set point. It’s the third he’s had on his serve. This, you feel, is surely it. Cecchinato isn’t going to give up without a fight – but Thiem sinks to his knees when he sees a forehand pass from the Italian fly long!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 10-11 Thiem (*denotes server): A fine return from Thiem forces Cecchinato to dribble a forehand into the net!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 10-10 Thiem (*denotes server): After a grinding baseline rally, it’s Thiem’s turn to produce a spinning backhand drop shot and get himself out of a deep hole! This is staggering.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 10-9 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem whacks a forehand long! Cecchinato has a third set point and this time it’s on his serve!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 9-9 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem produces a marvellous, snorting, deep second serve to confound Cecchinato and wipe out the set point!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 9-8 Thiem (*denotes server): Thiem stoops and nets a backhand slice.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 8-8 Thiem (*denotes server): Under pressure? Why not just choose a drop-shot? Cecchinato is absurd.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 7-8 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem’s spot on with a volley this time. He has his fourth set point.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 7-7 Thiem* (*denotes server): Cecchinato can’t return a kick serve from Thiem.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 7-6 Thiem (*denotes server): Having saved three, Cecchinato earns his first set point with a huge forehand! What a turnaround!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 6-6 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato saves the third set point as he chooses to leave a Thiem forehand, which lands just long!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 5-6 Thiem* (*denotes server): Incredible! Thiem sends a forehand to the left corner. Cecchinato manages to slice it back but Thiem’s there with a backhand volley – only to make a total mess of it! Cecchinato lives on!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 4-6 Thiem* (*denotes server): Cecchinato saves the first, racing forward to beat Thiem with a forehand at the net.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 3-6 Thiem (*denotes server): Thiem rips a forehand return from right to left to earn three set points.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 3-5 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato’s in the right place for a volley after more extravagant drop-shotting.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 2-5 Thiem* (*denotes server): Another forehand winner from Thiem. He’s two points from a two-set lead.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 2-4 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem smashes to good effect.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 2-3 Thiem (*denotes server): A long rally ends with Thiem battering a monstrous forehand away.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 2-2 Thiem (*denotes server): Another drop shot from Cecchinato.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 1-2 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem hooks a forehand from right to left.
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato 1-1 Thiem* (*denotes server): A magnificent, angled return puts Cecchinato in control of the rally, though he’s in danger of blowing it when he fails to put away a couple of smashes. No matter: he turns to the trusty drop shot to win the point and the crowd’s approval!
Second set tie-break: Cecchinato* 0-1 Thiem (*denotes server): Thiem dominates the rally and eventually forces an error from Cecchinato.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 6-6 Thiem* (*denotes server): We’ll have a tie-break. You’ll remember that Cecchinato won a couple on Tuesday.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 6-5 Thiem (*denotes server): We reach the point where Cecchinato was broken in set one but lightning doesn’t strike twice. He holds comfortably and has earned a tie-break at the very least.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 5-5 Thiem* (*denotes server): Serving to stay in the set, Thiem scoots into a 40-0 lead. Cecchinato chops a sliced return at him to make it 40-15 but that’s as close as it gets.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 5-4 Thiem (*denotes server): The game goes to 30-all. A grinding rally ensues. Thiem’s the first to blink, spraying a forehand wide when it might have been more prudent to keep testing Cecchinato’s focus. The game goes to deuce but Cecchinato has the resolve to dig deep and hold.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 4-4 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem treats Cecchinato to a taste of his own medicine, drop-shotting for 15-0. Thiem’s feeling the heat a little, though, and a missed backhand makes it 30-all. Just as well he volleys well, though, and it’s game when Thiem swings an ace down the middle.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 4-3 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato crunches into a 40-15 lead. Thiem knocks a forehand return long. This is turning into a very tight set. There’s tension but little drama. But you feel it’s warming up nicely.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 3-3 Thiem* (*denotes server): Cecchinato still can’t make any impression on Thiem’s serve. On we trundle.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 3-2 Thiem (*denotes server): Thiem has a sniff at 15-30 and a pungent drop shot from Cecchinato allows the Austrian to claim two break points. Cecchinato wipes them both out, though, volleying and then serving well. The game goes to deuce and again Cecchinato clambers to safety.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 2-2 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem’s finding it a breeze on serve. As long as that remains the case, it’s hard to see him losing.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 2-1 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato’s refusing to let losing the first set affect him. He holds to 15.
Second set: Cecchinato 5-7, 1-1 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem races into a 40-0 lead. No fuss: he holds to 15.
Second set: Cecchinato* 5-7, 1-0 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato tries one drop shot too many at 30-all and Thiem forces him to spurt a backhand wide. Break point. The Italian thinks about changing his racket. Instead he hangs on a bit and produces a sublime, feathery drop shot to make it deuce. Then he changes his racket. The Italian turns up the power and holds.
Dominic Thiem wins the first set 7-5!
A fine piece of serve-volleying makes it 40-15 to Thiem. Two set points. A big serve on the first is enough to end the argument. Thiem pumps his fist. This is his to lose.
First set: Cecchinato* 5-6 Thiem (*denotes server): The game goes to 30-all and Cecchinato’s under pressure when he nets a tame forehand, gifting Thiem a break point. A long rally ensues but hard as Cecchinato tries to match Thiem, the Austrian’s power is too much. He softens the Italian open up with some devilish backhands and then spanks a forehand down the line to break. He’ll serve for the first set.
First set: Cecchinato 5-5 Thiem* (*denotes server): Cecchinato tries a drop shot and Thiem reads this one, scampering forward to belt a backhand down the line for 15-0. Another missile makes it 30-0 and it’s not long before it’s 40-0. Despite an awful miss with a forehand, Thiem volleys smartly to hold to 15.
First set: Cecchinato* 5-4 Thiem (*denotes server): There have been moments when Thiem looked like he was going to run away with this set. Now he’s the one under pressure. He’s the one who’s missing and Cecchinato’s the one who’s causing problems, a backhand down the line helping him carve out a 40-0 lead. The Italian holds to love and Thiem will serve to keep the set alive.
First set: Cecchinato 4-4 Thiem* (*denotes server): At 0-15, Cecchinato gets a little lucky with a blocked return off a sharp serve and Thiem’s unable to do anything other than stick the ball into the net for 0-30. The Austrian’s still not got over his confusion by the time he limbers up for the next point, double-faulting to hand Cecchinato three break points. Thiem scrubs them all out, forcing deuce, but he’s facing a fourth break point after butchering a simple volley. He can’t escape this time. Cecchinato bellows as he watches a Thiem backhand sail long and we’re back on serve!
First set: Cecchinato* 3-4 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato’s in trouble after double-faulting to make it 0-30. He clambers back to 30-all, though, and then he raises his confidence by drop-shotting and smashing to perfection for 40-30. But the game goes to deuce, Cecchinato unable to keep the errors from infecting his play. He’s starting to get annoyed. But he clings on again. This set isn’t done yet.
First set: Cecchinato 2-4 Thiem* (*denotes server): It’s all very precise from Thiem at the moment. He’s not missing much. A fantastic, whipped forehand makes it 40-0 and he holds to love thanks to a fast serve out wide.
First set: Cecchinato* 2-3 Thiem (*denotes server): Trailing 0-15, Cecchinato nails his first ace. That was timely. Another good serve makes it 30-15 but then he dumps a forehand into the net. He’s not quite there at the moment. He tries to serve and volley on the next point and Thiem easily guides a backhand pass down the line to make it 30-40, only to waste the break point by netting a backhand return. From there, with the use of one of those nifty drop shots, the Italian holds.
First set: Cecchinato 1-3 Thiem* (*denotes server): The first two points are shared. But Cecchinato’s struggling to get into Thiem’s service games. The Austrian holds to 15.
First set: Cecchinato* 1-2 Thiem (*denotes server): Cecchinato settles his nerves a little, holding to love without ceremony. He needed that.
First set: Cecchinato 0-2 Thiem* (*denotes server): Thiem’s dialled in. He races away with this game, consolidating the break by holding to love. Cecchinato’s up against it already.
First set: Cecchinato* 0-1 Thiem (*denotes server): The first men’s semi-final begins with Marco Cecchinato serving and straight away we’re treated to a backhand battle. It ends with Thiem spraying long. On a sunny Paris afternoon, though, Thiem’s soon showing off his power, ramming a forehand down the line for 30-all. Then Cecchinato knocks a backhand wide, giving Thiem an early break point, but the Italian saves it with a sharp forehand. Thiem’s finding his range, though, earning another break point thanks to more fearsome hitting on the forehand side, and he takes this one when a rasping backhand return forces Cecchinato to send a backhand long.
The players are out. They’ve smiled for the cameras, they’ve flipped a coin, they’re knocking up. It’s almost time.
It’s 1-1 in the head-to-head between Marco Cecchinato and Dominic Thiem, although they haven’t met since 2014 and have never played each other in a grand slam. That isn’t much of a guide, is it?
Once this one’s over, it’s Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal is going for his 11th French Open title, while Del Potro’s just happy to be wielding his hammer. But the Argentinian’s a big threat. He’s beaten Nadal before, albeit not on clay. Hopefully he’s rested well after a tough battle with Marin Cilic.
Everybody loves an underdog story but it isn’t all sweetness and light when it comes to Marco Cecchinato, as Kevin Mitchell reports:
There is, however, an elephant in the room at this otherwise uplifting party: Marco Cecchinato. His should be the fairytale of the tournament and, to a large extent, it is: the 25-year-old Italian, ranked 72 in the world, who came from two sets down to win 10-8 in the fifth of his opening match and went on to put the former champion Novak Djokovic out in a heart-stopping quarter-final.
Yet allegations of match-fixing have hung over him for nearly three years, even though he was allowed off on a technicality when the Italian federation failed to meet a deadline in the appeals process.
As detailed in the New York Times last year Italian investigators tapped into WhatsApp messages between Cecchinato and his friend Riccardo Accardi that suggested he might recoup betting losses on Italian football at the 2015 Mohammedia Challenger in Morocco. Accardi and his father used multiple accounts to bet on Cecchinato at 7-1 to lose in straight sets to the world No 338 Kamil Majchrzak, which he did.
Cecchinato denied the allegations and appealed – and the Italian federation’s processes broke down to the extent that he escaped without censure. The Tennis Integrity Unit did not respond to Guardian inquiries on Thursday as to whether they were taking the investigation any further.
Hello. It’s Dominic Thiem’s third consecutive French Open semi-final and the good news for the brilliant young Austrian is that the man standing on the other side of the net isn’t a member of the Big Five. Thiem was blown away by Novak Djokovic in 2016 and although he gained revenge over the Serbian in their quarter-final last year, he was no match for a rampant Rafa Nadal two days later. This time, though, his opponent is Marco Cecchinato, the world No72. Cecchinato might have made himself one of the stories of the tournament after stunning Djokovic on Tuesday but Thiem really couldn’t have asked for a better draw.
Mind you, Cecchinato isn’t to be taken lightly, even though the Italian hadn’t won a single grand slam match before arriving at Roland Garros last month. The 25-year-old, who is the first Italian to reach the last four here since Corrado Barazzutti 40 years ago, has a gorgeous single-handed backhand and he showed no nerves in that mesmeric fourth-set tie-break against Djokovic. Yet Thiem, who demonstrated his clay smarts by thumping an ailing Alexander Zverev in his quarter-final, will be kicking himself if he blows the opportunity to reach a maiden grand slam final.
Play begins at: 12pm BST, 1pm in Paris.
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