Novak Djokovic is out of the French Open after Italy’s Marco Cecchinato beat him to reach the semi-finals in a huge shock in Paris yesterday evening.
Djokovic, 31, saved three match points and missed three set points before the world number 72 finally won 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 1-6 7-6 (13-11).
Cecchinato, 25, had never won a main-draw match at a Grand Slam before this year’s Roland Garros.
He will face Austria’s Dominic Thiem in the last four.
Their meeting on Friday means there is guaranteed to be at least one first-time Slam finalist.
Seventh seed Thiem reached his third Roland Garros semi-final with a straight-set win against Germany’s second seed Alexander Zverev, who also struggled with injury.
Cecchinato, who was banned for match-fixing in 2016 before having the suspension overturned, is the first Italian to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1978.
Djokovic had been building momentum at Roland Garros over the past 10 days, dropping just one set on his way to a joint record 12th quarter-final – even though he had not been considered among the pre-tournament favourites.
An elbow injury has limited his playing time over the past year, seeing him drop down the world rankings to 22nd and receiving a lowly seeding in Paris as a result.
Still, few saw this defeat coming against a outsider who the Serb had regularly practised with at home in Monte Carlo.
In their first tour-level meeting, Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final since the 2016 US Open.
But he paid the price for a slow start in which he hit only three winners in the first set and failed to make a dent on Cecchinato’s serve.
Eventually he began to improve as a compelling quarter-final turned into the best match of the tournament so far.
Ultimately, Djokovic missed opportunities at key moments – particularly in that deciding tie-break – and leaves some wondering if the former world number one will ever return to the heights of his previous dominance.
Before his run at Roland Garros, Cecchinato was a player who many tennis fans had only previously heard of because of an 18-month ban he received in 2016 for match-fixing.
It was later reduced to 12 months and then completely overturned – allowing him to continue playing on the ATP Tour.
He has refused to talk about the issue at Roland Garros, instead preferring to concentrate on the tennis – which, at times, was stunning against Djokovic.
The Italian showed flashes of shot-making brilliance and plenty of dogged defence to take a two sets to love lead – after saving three set points before winning the second-set tie-break.
But, as Djokovic grew into the match, Cecchinato started to lose rhythm and focus – receiving a penalty point at the start of the fourth set for going off court without permission.
Djokovic won 11 of 14 games from the start of the third set before Cecchinato somehow regained his composure to break back in the fourth set and take it into a tie-break.
The drama did not end there.
It was a breaker which had everything: missed match points, missed set points, and the stunning fluctuations left the Court Suzanne Lenglen crowd gasping in excitement.
The ebb and flow left the outcome impossible to predict, Cecchinato eventually sealing the biggest win of his life with a backhand return winner that left Djokovic standing.
He fell to the clay in exhilaration, spreading both arms across the red dirt in celebration.