The quarterfinalist nobody saw coming
CLEARED of match-fixing only two years ago, Italian Marco Cecchinato will continue to chase redemption in the most unlikely fashion - a French Open quarter-final tilt at Novak Djokovic.
Cecchinato, 25, was banned for 18 months in 2016 for his role in an alleged scam in a Moroccan Challenger match in 2015.
After losing the match in Morocco to Kamil Majchrzak, Cecchina was suspended along with compatriots Riccardo Accardi and Antonio Campo for conspiracy to match-fix.
The ban was reduced on appeal to 12 months and then completely scrapped, along with a fine for more than $50,000.
Remarkably, Cecchinato had never won a grand slam match before this tournament, but showed some good form when winning an ATP clay-court title in Budapest as a lucky loser - beating Queenslander John Millman in the final.
His 7-5 4-6 6-0 6-3 victory over eighth seed David Goffin in the fourth round followed a four-set win against 10th-seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
"For me, this is the best moment of my life. Maybe it's a dream, because now I'm very, very happy for this match," said Cecchinato.
"I started the year playing very well, so now this is the best moment of my life because I feel every match is good."
It will be tough for Cecchinato to continue his remarkable run, though, with Djokovic starting to look closer to his best form after slipping to 22 in the rankings.
Cecchinato and Djokovic have never previously played but they are familiar, having practised together on several occasions.
"For me it's amazing. It's a pleasure playing against Novak in quarter-final at Roland Garros," he said.
"I feel very good, because every match I play very well. Now I beat David Goffin, (who) is one of the best players in the world."
Djokovic said: "I have known of him for many years.
"I know now his game and I practised with him, I watched him play. For sure, he's playing the tennis of his life.
"Even though he's not a seeded player, he's still in the quarter-final. He deserves respect and he's got nothing to lose in our next match. So I'll approach it very seriously."
AGASSI DOUBTS ANYTHING CAN STOP NADAL
ANDRE Agassi claims only one thing stands between Rafael Nadal and an 11th French Open crown - food poisoning, or similar short-term calamity.
Asked what he would do if, in his prime, he was drawn to face Nadal on clay, the 1999 Roland Garros champion said: "Call Air France and get the next flight out (of Paris)."
Back in the French capital to watch young Australians Hana Sonton and Zach Viiala in the Longines Future Tennis Aces, Agassi believes his former charge Djokovic is the biggest threat to Nadal.
"Rafa, I don't know how anybody can stop him, three out of five (sets), but if somebody can it will be Novak if he gets his things together," Agassi said.
"He can go from one day to the next because he's done it so many times.
"But beating Rafa, I don't know.
"I guess food poisoning, maybe if he woke up sick and something was wrong.
"You've got to do it every day and Rafa's done it for years.
"So nothing says he won't keep doing it but you do have to tie your shoes and get on the court and prove it.
"But if he's playing his best tennis, I don't think it's possible."
Agassi coached Djokovic last year as the former world No 1 struggled with injury.
Now back with long-term mentor Marian Vajda, Djokovic is safely into the last eight after a clinical 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over Spanish 30th seed Fernando Verdasco.
In a nod to the Serb's enduring quality, he has now reached the last eight here for a record 12th time - one better than Nadal, who could match the feat tonight.
Djokovic was unimpressed after being ignored by ground staff after they decided not to water the court at the end of the first set.
"I thought it was not the right decision," Djokovic said.
"What I don't like is that there is no participation of the players. So they don't ask players.
"We are the ones who are playing and sliding and not sliding, so we can give them the most important feedback.
"It doesn't seem like they care too much about our opinion, and that's something I don't like.
"If we reach the consensus that we should water or not, that's okay. With me, you know, that's fine.
"If majority decides that it shouldn't be watered, I'll be okay with the decision.
"But I think we deserve to be part of it."
Djokovic was far more satisfied with his revival after the struggles of the past two seasons.
"Especially considering all the circumstances that I was in in the last 15 months," he said.
"So, I mean, it's quite achievement to get to the quarters of a slam for me, and I always played well in slams. I always try to kind of build my form in order to peak at the slams.
"Rome was the best tournament I have played so far this year, and now Roland Garros is probably even better. Hopefully it's going to get even better.
"I have been many, many times in quarters of Roland Garros and all the slams, and of course I do appreciate it, considering it's a different kind of situation for me.
"But I don't want to stop here.
The other quarter-final in the bottom half will be contested by German second seed Alexander Zverev and Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem.
Zverev, 21, scrambled into the last eight with a gritty 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-3 6-3 success over Russian Karen Khachanov - the German's third consecutive five-set win.
Zverev said he was unconcerned by mental or physical fatigue.
"Mental, definitely not, because I'm in the quarter-finals of a grand slam," he said.
"If you're mentally fatigued, then something is wrong with you.
"Physically, obviously it's not easy to play back-to-back-to-back five-set matches, but I will manage it somehow.
"I will do everything I can to recover. I will make sure to be ready in two days' time.
"I'm very happy about being in the quarter-finals here by going the hard way, going the long distance every single time and showing myself, showing everybody that I can play for as long as I need to."
Warned for a coaching violation after officials spotted signals from his support box, Zverev is the youngest man to reach the last eight in Paris since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
Thiem downed Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4, avenging two previous defeats to the underperforming 19th seed.
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