Austria’s Dominic Thiem will face off against Italian Marco Cecchinato for a place in the French Open semifinals this Thursday in a match which, on paper, seems like a major mismatch. Thiem is the seventh seed at this year’s event and is competing in his third consecutive semifinal, although he has lost the previous two. Cecchinato, in contrast, is the world #72, and prior to this tournament had never won a match at a Slam. Who will come out on top?
Thiem and Cecchinato have gone head-to-head just twice in their careers and haven’t matched up against one another since back in 2014. That match, it’s fair to say, carried a little less weight than this one. It came in the second round of the qualifiers in Doha, and after Cecchinato snared the first set, Thiem fought back to win 1-6 6-3 6-2, although he went on to lose in the first round to fellow qualifier Peter Gojowczyk.
The other head-to-head battle between the two was a year earlier in the final of an ITF Futures Tour event in Italy. That game bore a little more relevance to this semifinal as it was played on clay, and surprisingly, it was Cecchinato who took home the victory. He won in straight sets 6-3 6-4, though it’s worth noting that Thiem was far from the established top 10 player that he is today, so it would, perhaps, be imprudent to draw too much from that result.
Path to the semifinals
It would be unfair to say Thiem hasn’t yet been pushed on his road to the semis, but he is yet to be taken the distance. After cruising through the first round in straight sets, he was forced to work a little more in his next couple of rounds. He dropped a set in both the second and third rounds against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini respectively. He faced 19th seed Kei Nishikori in the fourth round, beating him 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4. Then, in his most impressive performance, he crushed second seed Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-2 6-1.
Cecchinato was desperately close to being sent packing in the first round but fought back from two sets down to beat Marius Copil 2-6 6-7 7-5 6-2 10-8. He was comfortable in the second round, before stunning the tenth seed, Pablo Carreno Busta, 2-6 7-6 6-3 6-1 to reach the fourth round. There he faced eighth seed David Goffin, beating him 7-5 4-6 6-0 6-3 to set up a match against Novak Djokovic. In a tightly contested match Cecchinato earned his spot in the semis with a thrilling 6-3 7-6 1-6 7-6 win against the former world #1.
How do they match up?
Thiem has a game full of strengths, and one which is suited perfectly to the clay surface. Preferring to play from the baseline, he is more than happy to settle in at the back of the court and wait for a suitable opportunity to unveil his powerful forehand or precision backhand. His serve is also a major weapon, with the Austrian comfortable dropping the hammer as well as using a heavy kick serve, which is particularly useful on the clay.
Cecchinato as also always preferred the clay, although he had never before found this degree of success on the surface. He too boasts a one-handed backhand, and throughout this tournament that has been a major strength. However, it will be certain to receive a stern examination at the hands of Thiem's, which could make for some thrilling rallies. Cecchinato has also demonstrated a propensity for going to the slice and drop shot often.
Cecchinato’s French Open run has been a memorable one, and it would be a fairy-tale for him to conquer Thiem and reach the final having never previously won a match at a Grand Slam. Thiem, however, has looked extremely steady throughout the tournament, and has spent significantly less time on the court than his opponent. The Austrian will be too strong for Cecchinato, and will end the Italian’s dream run in four sets.