It has been a recurring point of focus in 2019: The ATP Tour, beyond the Big 3 and Dominic Thiem, has a consistency problem. Marco Cecchinato fits into this larger landscape.
This doesn’t mean the ATP’s top 30 is rubbish. A number of higher-ranked ATP players have struggled because of injuries more than tennis. Familiar names such as del Potro, Raonic, Nishikori, Anderson and others have — either in this year or recent seasons, or a combination of both — been thwarted by their bodies more than anything else. They have failed to make a large imprint on the 2019 season because of health, not a lack of tennis acumen. The stagnation in the ATP top 30 outside the elites is partly a story of injuries.
Yet, even though the ATP top 30 contains a lot of talent, it has to be acknowledged that consistency is a stumbling block for much of it. This is why Kando and Delpo are still in the top 10, and why the Fabio Fogninis and Daniil Medvedevs and Karen Khachanovs still can’t crack the top 10.
With the sole — and conspicuous — exception of Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ATP has been strangled by stasis and immersed in inertia from spots 6 to 30.
Marco Cecchinato offers a representative example, and this portrait of paralysis was magnified by his loss to Nicolas Mahut in the first round of Roland Garros on Sunday.
No one needs a primer on Cecchinato’s surface-specific game. Clay is his citadel. The surface propelled him into the tennis spotlight one year ago. The simple fact that Cecchinato could not deliver another strong clay season in 2019 isn’t an indictment of his clay-court capacities. It is more a reflection of that eternal question and challenge posed to tennis players once they taste a significant measure of success:
Can you back it up?
Pressure is attached to that question. Doubt is accompanied by that challenge. Cecchinato could not answer that challenge in 2019.
Maybe, unburdened by pressure, Cecchinato will rise again in the 2020 clay season. I wouldn’t be shocked if he did. Yet, that is a different competitive context from the one he faced this year… and the pressure of feeling the need to validate oneself proved to be formidable in ways he couldn’t solve.
Marco Cecchinato is still a very skilled tennis player, especially on clay. The #INNERGAME is where most tennis players struggle. Cecchinato must figure out that part of the puzzle, more than clay acumen or overall tactics, if he wants to return to a Roland Garros semifinal or, more broadly viewed, a place in the top tier of men’s tennis.