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Djokovic exits and puts question mark over his grass-court season

 

By Andy Sims

Novak Djokovic crashed out of the French Open - and then cast doubt over whether he will play at Wimbledon.

The 12-time Grand Slam winner was stunned in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros yesterday by World No.72 Marco Cecchinato.

Italian Cecchinato won in four sets, scrambling over the line in an epic tie-break on his fourth match point.

Afterwards, a dazed Djokovic, who has struggled with injury for much of the last year, was asked when he planned to make his first grass-court appearance.

He replied: "I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to play on grass. I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do. I just came from the court. Sorry, guys, I can't give you that answer. I cannot give you any answer.

"How do I regroup? I don't know. I'm just not thinking about tennis at the moment."

The Serbian needed lengthy treatment on a neck problem after dropping the first set.

But Cecchinato proved an even bigger pain in the neck for the 2016 Paris champion.

Djokovic had two set points at 6-5 in the second but went on to lose the tie-break.

Cecchinato was mixing things up to great effect, tying Djokovic to the baseline while throwing in regular, at times remarkable, spin-heavy drop-shots from the back of the court.

Yet Djokovic won the third set at a canter, and a suddenly frustrated Cecchinato was hit with a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The storm seemed to have blown itself out and Djokovic served for the fourth set at 5-3.

But from somewhere Cecchinato got a second wind, breaking back and forcing a tie-break.

It was a classic, Djokovic wasting three set points and Cecchinato unable to take the first of three for the match.

But on number four, Djokovic left a looping backhand return which landed just in and Cecchinato celebrated a famous victory, 6-3 7-6 (7/4) 1-6 7-6 (13/11).

Cecchinato had not won a single Grand Slam match until he arrived at Roland Garros, but the 25-year-old is now the first Italian to reach the semi-final since Corrado Barazzutti 40 years ago.

He said: "Maybe I'm sleeping. It's amazing. It's unbelievable for me. For me to beat Djokovic in a quarter-final at Roland Garros, it's amazing.

"For me, it's the first time in a Grand Slam semi-final. Now I need to think for the semi-final and I need some rest for recovery. I am very happy."

Earlier, Alexander Zverev admitted his exertions had finally caught up with him after exiting in the quarter-finals to Dominic Thiem.

Second seed Zverev had fought through three consecutive five-setters and spent almost two and a half hours longer on court than Thiem.

So it came as no surprise when the 21-year-old German began to cramp up and Thiem ended his run with a comprehensive 6-4 6-2 6-1 victory.

For Thiem, the seventh seed, a third consecutive Paris semi-final and a meeting with Cecchinato beckons.

Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys ensured there will be an American in the women's final.

The two great friends, who met in the US Open final last year - won by Stephens - will face each other in the last four at Roland Garros.

Stephens brushed aside young Russian Daria Kasatkina, while Keys also went through in straight sets against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

Theirs is supposedly the friendliest rivalry in tennis, and Stephens said: "When we get on the court, it's time to compete. But before that, we are not going to be weird and awkward.

"Now I just have to go find her, because I need to tell her some juicy stuff. We're the same girls as always."

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