PARIS - Marco Cecchinato says he's ready to "sign in blood" to reach the French Open final but the Italian's Paris fairytale just cannot escape the match-fixing scandal that almost finished his career two years ago.
World number 72 Cecchinato on Tuesday became the first Italian man in 40 years to reach a Grand Slam semi-final with a breathtaking 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 1-6, 7-6 (13/11) victory over 12-time major winner Novak Djokovic. Cecchinato, who had never won a Grand Slam match in his career before Roland Garros, goes on to face Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem for a place in Sunday's final.
However, he continues to be stalked by the events of 2016 when he was suspended for 18 months by the Italian tennis federation having been accused of fixing. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing. The scandal focused on a second-tier Challenger match he lost to Kamil Majchrzak in Morocco in 2015, with his country's federation banning him and fellow Italians Riccardo Accardi and Antonio Campo.
Cecchinato, though, later had his suspension reduced to 12 months, before it was scrapped completely and he returned to the Tour. At the time, he had been the highest-ranked player to be banned for fixing. His fine of 40,000 euros ($46,634) was also overturned.
He always denied any involvement in a plot and the Italian Olympic Committee agreed, insisting that there had been "irregularities" in how the evidence was gathered during the investigation. As he has made his stunning progress in Paris, he has resolutely refused to revisit the controversy.
"I told you I don't want to speak about that. I want to think for this moment in my life," said Cecchinato, the lowest-ranked player to make the semi-finals in almost two decades. This time last year, the 25-year-old was knocked out of Roland Garros in the final qualifying round by compatriot Simone Bolelli.
He then returned to the nitty-gritty of the second-tier Challenger Tour in outposts such as Caltanissetta and Todi in Italy before losing in the first round of Wimbledon. Ranked 109 at the start of 2018, Cecchinato will rise to at least 27 in the world next week, enough for a seeding at Wimbledon.
"Who knows, maybe I'll be able to win some matches -- even at Wimbledon," he said having also admitted that being a seed on such an alien surface "is good news for my opponent". But first, on Thursday he has to find a way past Thiem, the only man to have defeated Rafael Nadal on clay this year.
"I would sign with blood to win against Thiem and reach the final even if I were to lose against Nadal," Cecchinato told Italian media. "Two months ago something clicked in my head, you could say that I'm finally maturing at 25 years," added Cecchinato who won his first ATP Tour title in Budapest this year as a 'lucky loser'.