Struggling with an elbow injury, Novak Djokovic only played 12 matches between Wimbledon 2017 and Rome 2018. After a slow start to the 2018 season, Djokovic reached the semi-final of the Rome Masters and expected more at Roland Garros. Novak had four wins to advance to the quarter-finals in Paris, and was the favorite against world number 72 Marco Cecchinato. Marco had 12 ATP wins before Roland Garros and none at Majors. That wasn’t a deterrent to him though, as he surged forward and stunned Novak with a 6-3 7-6 1-6 7-6 run in three hours and 26 minutes to earn a spot in the semi-finals. Marco became the lowest-ranked semi-finalist in Paris since Andrei Medvedev in 1999, playing at a high level in the crucial moments and rallying from a fourth-set deficit to avoid a decider. Novak restored order in the third set and built a 5-2 lead in the fourth. However, he couldn’t bring it home and force the decider, in which he would have been the favourite. Djokovic got six breaks and scored four points more than his rival thanks to that third set. However, it wasn’t enough to keep him safe as he was broken four times and gave up both tie breaks to hit the starting gate. The Italian defended 11 of 17 break points and fended off three set points in the fourth set tie break to emerge on top and start a huge celebration. Cecchinato hit 54 winners and 41 unforced errors, dominating his shots and mixing his game with flats, dropshots and slices that kept Novak out of his comfort zone. Marco got off to a strong start and only gave up five points after service in the first set. Novak fended off two break chances in the second game of the encounter before giving up serve in game four to trail 3-1. Cecchinato served well in the remaining games and won the first game 6-3 with a powerful serve after just 34 minutes.
John McEnroe reflects on Djokovic
John McEnroe took stock of Roland-Garros on the Eurosport set, and he explained in particular what can separate Novak Djokovic from Nadal. “Most of us thought it would be Novak Djokovic who would tip the scales in his favor, but there was this horrible debacle in Australia with Novak not being able to make it to the first big event of the year. And after that, I don’t think Novak thought Rafa was going to win the Australian Open. Djokovic and Nadal arrived at totally different times of form at the Paris event. The Serb was gaining momentum, raising his level more and more and recovering the best sensations. Meanwhile, the Spaniard came with a lot of doubts related to his foot. So Djokovic showed up in Paris with the idea of: ‘I have to catch up with this guy’, but Nadal took it up a notch and won another trophy in Paris.”