Dominic Thiem finally got to face someone other than Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in the French Open semifinals, and he took full advantage.
The No. 7-seeded Thiem reached the first Grand Slam final of his career by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy at Roland Garros with a powerful performance in a 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1 victory Friday.
It was the 24-year-old Austrian's third consecutive appearance in the final four at Roland Garros, after losses to eventual champions Djokovic in 2016 and Nadal in 2017.
This time, Thiem instead faced Cecchinato (cheh-key-NAH'-toe), a 25-year-old from Sicily who never had won a Grand Slam match until this tournament and was the lowest-ranked men's semifinalist at the clay-court major in 19 years. Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.
After dropping the first two sets he played in the opening round, Cecchinato came back to win that match in five sets, then proceeded to string together upsets. He beat No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round and No. 8 David Goffin in the fourth before stunning 12-time major champion Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
But Checchinato could not quite keep up with Thiem and his big baseline game. Cecchinato made some headway by repeatedly using drop shots, but Thiem eventually started tracking them down well.
The pivotal part of the match was the second-set tiebreaker in which both men played superbly — and both had chances to end it. Thiem went ahead 6-3, but wasted three set points there, including a bad volley into the net at 6-4 that left him chewing ruefully on his left index finger.
"It was not a very nice feeling," Thiem told the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd afterward.
A fourth set point for Thiem was erased with — what else? — a drop shot by Cecchinato.
Thiem had to weather three set points for Cecchinato, at 7-6, 9-8 and 10-9. Thiem got to 10-all with a drop shot of his own.
At long last, Thiem converted his fifth set point when Cecchinato sent a forehand long. The third set was dominated by Thiem, who raced to a 4-0, two-break lead in 12 minutes.
Of that set, Thiem said: "If I had lost it, it would have been a very close match. The big key was this set."
In Sunday's final, Thiem will face either No. 1 Nadal or No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro. Their semifinal is later Friday.
Thiem is the only man to defeat 10-time French Open champion Nadal on clay this season.
Nadal takes a 10-0 French Open semifinal record into his matchup against 2009 U.S. Open champion del Potro. Nadal is closing in on his record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros and what would be his 17th major trophy in all.
Del Potro is playing in the French Open semifinals for the first time in nine years.
"It's very important to regenerate now," Thiem said. "I will watch the second semifinal to study my next opponent a little bit, then full power on Sunday."
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