Before we go on to the preview of tomorrow’s semifinal between Marco Cecchinato and Dominic Thiem, I feel obliged to quickly sum up the Italian’s match-fixing allegations. I’ve heard and read a lot of people talking about it the last few days, but hardly anyone seems to have a good idea of what really happened. TV announcers on my national version of Eurosport have been talking of it as if he was simply wrongfully accused, which is not exactly the case in my opinion. I’m not trying to say that I find him 100% guilty, but I just find this whole affair very “stinky”.
The match Cecchinato is most “famous” for (at least up until this year’s Roland Garros), is his quarterfinal encounter against Kamil Majchrzak at the 2015 Mohammedia Challenger. He lost to the young Pole in straight sets, which was a big surprise (odds were around 7.00 for his win in straights). However, a fellow Italian tennis player and Cecchinato’s friend Riccardo Accardi and Accardi’s father placed huge bets on Majchrzak winning two sets to love and took home a great deal of money. To not raise suspicions, they placed the bet on various sites.
How’s Cecchinato involved in all this? After the Italian authorities got interested because of these strangely high amounts that Accardi and his father bet, they got to a WhatsApp conversation between Accardi and Marco Cecchinato, where the latter talked about how he lost money on a bet he placed on a football match and implied that he would like to be drawn against a lower-ranked opponent in Mohammedia, which would present an opportunity to earn money for him and Accardi.
The Italian deleted the conversation from his phone, but the Italian authorities managed to get it from the phone of his accomplice. Cecchinato also booked a flight back to Italy before the match against Kamil Majchrzak. Indeed, he lost the match 6-1, 6-4.
Strange to say the least. Polish TV announcers (tell me, what do the announcers say about it in your countries?) are making it sound like he was found not guilty, however, the truth is he got an 18-month ban from the Italian federation. Cecchinato appealed the decision and he was extremely lucky because the federation missed a deadline and there were also some questions about how the evidence was gathered. Therefore, originally meant to be banned until January 2018, the Italian was able to continue his career.
What’s also worth noting, is that it wasn’t the only controversial match he’s taken part in, he also got accused of fixing a doubles match played with Luca Vanni at Prostejov Challenger, also allegedly telling his friend Accardi that they were going to lose. He also gave out confidential information about Andreas Seppi’s health (he shared a coach with the older Italian) before the fellow Italian’s match against John Isner at the 2015 Roland Garros to the guy who is slowly becoming a star of this article, Riccardo Accardi.
If you want to read more about the topic, I recommend you read these articles, you can also look for it yourself as there are a lot of takes on the subject to be found on the internet: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/25/sports/tennis/italy-tennis-match-fixing-suspensions.html or https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tennis-frenchopen-cecchinato-profile/tennis-cecchinato-in-dreamland-two-years-on-from-match-fixing-ban-idUSKCN1IZ0WD
Hey, we finally reached the preview. Sorry for making the intro that long, I just felt that was something that needed to be said. Just to be clear, I’m not really against the Italian, I believe he indeed fixed matches in the past, but I believe everyone deserves a second chance. And it’s been a pleasure watching him at this year’s Roland Garros. Cecchinato captured his first ATP World Tour title in Budapest a month ago and kept up decent form since then, losing to Fucsovics, Goffin and Seppi in the tournaments leading to 2018’s second Grand Slam. He struggled heavily in the first round against Marius Copil (was down two sets to love) but managed to overcome the Romanian 10-8 in the final set. He’s been on an unbelievable run since that, defeating Marco Trungelitti, Pablo Carreno Busta, David Goffin and Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Especially that last one, is going to be one of the matches tennis fans are going to remember for a long long time. Just watch the joyful fourth-set tie-break again:
Dominic Thiem’s clay court campaign this year was a little bit topsy-turvy – he beat Djokovic in Monte Carlo just to get smashed by Nadal in the next round. Then he had a strange loss in Barcelona quarterfinals to Stefanos Tsitsipas, but followed it up with a runner-up performance in Madrid (lost to Zverev), beating Rafael Nadal along the way. His Italian Open campaign ended with a second round (his first match, had a bye first round) loss to Fabio Fognini and the Austrian decided to play a tournament directly before the Roland Garros, Lyon Open. Thiem took home his second title of 2018, but it was hardly a convincing victory.
The Austrian didn’t look unbeatable during the first week here too, losing sets to the aforementioned Tsitsipas and Matteo Berretini, but has improved from the fourth round, defeating Kei Nishikori in four sets, before absolutely stomping Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.
Thiem and Cecchinato met twice before, once on clay, in the final of the 2013 Italy F17 Futures, where the Italian won in straight sets. The Austrian took his revenge at Doha qualifying next year, where he triumphed 1-6, 6-2, 6-3. However, these two matches were played over four years ago and they shouldn’t be relevant at all tomorrow.
It’s hard to see Thiem losing to his opponent in my opinion. I know it’s what everyone’s been saying before the Goffin and Djokovic matches too, but hey – Thiem moves better, hits deeper, harder and has a huge advantage when it comes to serve. He also is far more experienced, he’s been in two Roland Garros semifinals before and although he lost both of them, now is the time to make it one step further. I’ve only watched Marco Cecchinato twice or thrice before, but his groundstrokes have a lot less pop on them, which will make it hard for him to take initiative against a player like Thiem, who uses so much topspin. The Italian seems to be a very smart guy who excels at constructing points and shot selection – something that is definitely one of Thiem’s weakest points – but in my opinion the sheer power advantage should be the key here.
If I had to pick, I’d pick Thiem in three or four sets, possibly three with one tie-break.