Lorenzo Musetti gives Novak Djokovic a fright before fading out

Italian teenager won first two sets but bowed out in final set following medical break

 

Lorenzo Musetti spent his Monday afternoon competing in his first match against a top-four player, in his first outing on one of the four iconic courts and in his first grand slam tournament, yet for well over two hours of his fourth-round encounter against Novak Djokovic looked like he had been there his entire life.

For a fleeting period, Musetti put on a comprehensive demonstration of his talent and his future. He carved out, spun and whipped acute angles with his backhand in equal measure. On his forehand he shifted seamlessly between deep, heavy topspin and intermittent explosions. All the while, he showed his natural feel is complemented by strong athleticism. After a few of the long, gruelling rallies, it was the world number one who needed extra time to recover.

And yet, it wasn’t enough. From a two-set deficit, Djokovic survived by drawing on his full breadth of experience in pulling off one of the most lopsided recoveries in recent years to reach his 49th career grand slam quarter-final in winning 6-7 (7), 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 (ret).

Throughout the first two sets, Musetti broke down Djokovic’s game with supreme creativity. He fired backhand winners from far behind the baseline, landed exquisite drop shots and provoked constant changes of pace. After a winning drop shot at 7-7 in the tiebreak, Musetti skipped around a forehand in a long rally and obliterated an inside-out winner to take the set.

As Djokovic attempted to disrupt him, Musetti simply continued to rise, culminating in a shot that underlined his improvisational brilliance. At 2-0 in the second-set tiebreak Musetti hit a reflex, two-handed forehand lob winner while returning a Djokovic overhead. Djokovic scurried back and was next to the ball as it dropped but let it go. The Serb evidently did not think such an absurd shot had any chance of landing in. It did. Shortly after, Musetti won the tiebreak easily and led by two sets.

Hint of frustration

While Djokovic intermittently dropped the ball short, he was not playing badly and it was reflected in his demeanour. He barely showed a hint of frustration or doubt throughout. He knows, far more than any onlookers, just what it takes to concentrate and maintain such a high level in best-of-five-set matches. He counted on the fact that Musetti, who had never played a best of five-set match before last week, would eventually fall.

Musetti started the third set flat and Djokovic never allowed him back in. Djokovic opened with a 10-2 run of points, dismantling his opponent with drop shots and depth, and carried the momentum until the end of the set. There was little change in the fourth set, except the beating only became worse.

In the fourth set, Djokovic won 16 points in a row and was close to a “golden set”. By the fifth, Djokovic had won 33 of the previous 40 points and Musetti was broken mentally and physically. Following a medical timeout on his back before the fourth set, Musetti eventually bowed out. While the first two sets lasted 2 hours 20 minutes combined, the final three sets were over in 28, 19 and 21.

Undoubtedly the first of many grand slam tournaments to come for Musetti, this was a lesson for both him and also his contemporaries. The first week of Roland Garros has been a supreme tournament for the younger generation – Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are all into the quarters while even younger players such as Musetti, Jannik Sinner and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have performed extremely well.

But the question remains whether two of them can outplay, out-think, and digest pressure better than Djokovic and Rafael Nadal over five sets. In recent years, when both have been present, nobody has. In the last eight Djokovic will face another Italian, Matteo Berrettini, who was the beneficiary of Roger Federer’s withdrawal.

Wobbly start

Claycourt king Nadal overcame a wobbly start to subdue Italian teenager Jannik Sinner 7-5 6-3 6-0 on Monday and book his place in the quarter-finals. The Spaniard, looking to claim a record-extending 14th Roland Garros singles title and become the only man with 21 Grand Slam singles crowns, has won 35 consecutive sets in Paris. World number 19 Sinner, who at 19 years old has been labelled as the next big thing in tennis, hit a brick wall on court Philippe Chatrier after leading 5-3 in the opening set.

Third seed Nadal will now face Argentinian Diego Schwartzman for a place in the semi-finals.

Schwartzman has made it through to the quarter-finals without losing a set, but that hardly tells the story of a dramatic 7-6 (9) 6-4 7-5 victory over German Jan-Lennard Struff.

Struff led 5-1 in the opening set and held seven set points, while he fought back from 4-0 down in the third set, but it was Schwartzman, a semi-finalist last year, who came out on top.

– Guardian and agencies

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