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Out of nowhere, Marco Cecchinato now on road to somewhere

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Cecchinato shocks Novak Djokovic to reach semi-finals (0:48)

Nicolas Pereira reviews Novak Djokovic's stunning loss to Italian Marco Cecchinato and looks ahead to an all-American semi-final between Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens. (0:48)

It's the kind of script that would probably have been ripped up by a movie company for being too ridiculous.

Eight days ago, the 25-year-old Italian Marco Cecchinato was celebrating his first ever Grand Slam victory, having come from two sets down to beat Marius Copil of Romania 10-8 in the final set.

On Tuesday, his 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 7-6 victory over Novak Djokovic sent him through to the semifinals of a Grand Slam event, a remarkable achievement for a man who broke into the world's top 100 only in November.

Cracking winners from the baseline, especially on his stunning one-handed backhand, and carving drop shots into the clay, Cecchinato held his nerve under the most intense pressure to claim the victory of his career.

Whatever happens in his semifinal against Austria's Dominic Thiem, he will be guaranteed a place inside the top 30 and will be seeded for Wimbledon next month, a realization that prompted a broad smile and then a laugh. "Is good for my opponent in Wimbledon," he said.

Cecchinato, who described his sporting heroes as the Brazilian footballer Kaka and Marat Safin, is the first Italian man to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Corrado Barazzuti made the last four here in 1978. As his backhand return on his fourth match point landed beyond the outstretched arm of Djokovic, the tears flowed. "On the return, when I saw (it) was on the line, it was the best moment of my life," he said.

"The tears were because I couldn't believe I'd won," he told reporters in Italian. "I thought of the many sacrifices, many battles, all the work was worth it."

"It's been a long time (for an Italian to reach this stage). I am happy to write a place in history. There are many Italian players. Today, (that) I won this match is really incredible, reaching the semifinals I'm happy for having written a place in history."

Having returned to the Tour at Challenger level, mixing ATP events with tournaments on the Challenger Tour, Cecchinato has worked his way up inside the top 100 and he is projected to rise at least to around No. 27 when Roland Garros finishes on Sunday.

His climb up the rankings and his efforts here are all the more remarkable given what happened to him in 2016, when he was embroiled in a match-fixing scandal in Italy.

Initially banned for 18 months by the Italian Tennis Federation, which accused him of conspiring to fix two matches and using confidential information for gambling, his punishment was reduced to 12 months on appeal and then, after an appeal to the Italian Olympic Association. (CONI) in December 2016, he was acquitted of all charges.

On Tuesday, Cecchinato politely declined to speak about it, preferring instead to focus on his achievement, how he had dismantled the game of former world No 1 Djokovic, who was distraught after the match, mumbling short answers in a press conference he ended after little over four minutes.

How far can Cecchinato go?

Craig O'Shannessy, the strategist for the ATP Tour and an adviser to Djokovic, was impressed with the Italian's game plan, suggesting he could even threaten Nadal, should they both make the final.

"Cecchinato is a really bad match-up for Nadal, out of everyone who's left, and maybe the way he's playing right now, if he carries this form in, maybe even more than Thiem," O'Shannessy told ESPN.com. "Sneaking in, the drop shots, he's so smart. It's great, it's entertaining, smart, he's so good this guy."

Cecchinato has already shown that anything is possible. Should he get past Thiem, then even Nadal might be concerned.