PARIS • In the end, it turned into a rout yesterday, as Marco Cecchinato, one of the most unexpected semi-finalists in Grand Slam history, ran out of energy, precision and creative solutions against seventh seed Dominic Thiem.
But before Thiem, the first Austrian man to reach a Major final since Thomas Muster triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995, finished off his 7-5, 7-6 (12-10), 6-1 victory to book his place in the final tomorrow, Cecchinato gave him quite a fight and a fright.
The unseeded Italian pushed the much more experienced Thiem hard in the opening set and had three set points before losing the marathon second-set tiebreaker.
Cecchinato, who had not won a Grand Slam match before arriving in Paris, deployed the same kick serve, topspin groundstrokes and wicked drop shots that he had used to upset three seeded players, including former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, in a row.
And the world No. 72 looked very much in his element again on the red dirt in the French capital against his eighth-ranked opponent.
But Thiem's extra gear, athleticism and big-point confidence ultimately made the difference against Cecchinato as he was able to use his forehand to open up the court effectively.
The second-set tiebreaker turned out to be critical and, although the 24-year-old botched a straightforward backhand volley with a 6-4 lead that would have won him the set, he did well to shrug that off and finally closed out the set on his fifth set point.
Thiem, the youngest man since Rafael Nadal to reach the final in Paris, reflected afterwards on the turning point of the afternoon as he ended Cecchinato's improbable fairy tale .
"Maybe the experience helped a little bit, but the big key was the second set tiebreak because it was very close and I saved three set points," Thiem said.
"If I was going to lose that set, it was going to be a really close match, and I didn't want that.
"Of course it's very important to have a good recovery now. I'll study my opponent and then it's full power on Sunday."
Thiem, who has won two clay-court tournaments this season in Argentina and Lyon, is now into his first Grand Slam final.
And he will fancy his chances, having been the second best clay-court player in the world for the last two seasons behind Nadal, whom he has beaten three times, most recently in the Madrid Open quarter-finals last month.
Cecchinato, whose career was almost derailed two years ago by a match-fixing scandal before his name was cleared, will move into the top 30 next week despite the defeat.
And the 25-year-old expressed his gratitude to the crowd, who were rooting for him, given his underdog status.
"Today, all day, on Philippe Chatrier, the fans said, 'Forza, Marco', so this is the best moment for me," he added. "Against Dominic Thiem, he is top 10, and today, all the people were for me."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES