PARIS (Reuters) - At the age of 25 Marco Cecchinato finally got a taste of what it’s like to win matches at a Grand Slam tournament and after his unexpected run to the French Open semi-finals, the Italian is determined to prove that he is no one-hit wonder.
The Sicilian journeyman usually earns a living by playing in second-tier tournaments but over the past two weeks, the world number 72 looked like he belonged on the big stage as he knocked out seeds Pablo Carreno Busta, David Goffin and Novak Djokovic to reach the last four at Roland Garros.
On Friday, he was on par with the Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem for two sets and even had set points to level the contest at one-set all.
But once he squandered that chance against Thiem, the only man to beat 10-times Paris champion Rafael Nadal on clay this season, the Italian ended up falling to a 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1 defeat.
His perfect sliding and fine single-handed backhand make him a fearsome player on clay and Cecchinato believes he has what it takes to continue his climb up the rankings.
“It was a special tournament for me. I played two sets at the same level as Dominic Thiem. I think he’s the second or
third-best player on red clay,” Cecchinato, who was suspended for match fixing in 2016 before being cleared on a technicality, told reporters.
“For me, the level is very good at the moment.”
Coming back from two-sets down proved to be a challenge too far for a man not used to contesting best-of-five-set contests.
“If I had won the second set, I think it would have been a totally different third set,” he explained.
“But after the loss, I went down mentally and physically. I played so many matches, so I think it is normal.”
His exploits in Paris will help him to break into the top 20 for the first time in his career and Cecchinato hopes he will now be able to take advantage of being seeded at tournaments as he looks to challenge the more established players on a regular basis.
“I think it is possible to compete every day... against players from the top 10, top 20, top 30,” said Cecchinato, whose next stop will be the Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Eastbourne.
“I want to work more to go top 20.”
According to ATP projections, Cecchinato is expected to be ranked around the 18th when the new standings are released on Monday.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Pritha Sarkar