July 31, 2021

Djokovic extricates himself from the Musetti trap to spin in quarters

In mid-May, in Rome, Novak Djokovic set the record straight when he received his finalist trophy, beaten by Rafael Nadal at Foro Italico. “The young people of the next generation? Rafa, me and maybe Roger [Federer], we are the new generation. Of course, the Next Gen grows, regardless. We are still the ones who win the biggest tournaments and those of the Grand Slam ”, had boasted the Serbian, who celebrated his 34 years a few days before the Spaniard blows out his 35th birthday.

Monday, June 7, the world number one made a new demonstration by overcoming by K.-O. Lorenzo Musetti, 19, in the round of 16 at Roland Garros (6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 ab.).

For his baptism on the immense Philippe-Chatrier court – and his very short Grand Slam baptism – the Italian however does not allow himself to be disconcerted. The young esthete ensures the spectacle in front of the thousand spectators, who discover his magic kick and his tennis plume, playing here a high volley of backhand back to the net, there a cushioned cushioned volley. In the third round, already, the kid from Carrara (Tuscany) had put in the pocket the public of the court n ° 7, come to attend his duel with Marco Cecchinato – semi-finalist on the Parisian clay in 2018 – with shots from elsewhere. Like this jewel of a volley against the foot, racket in the back, in response to a spoon serve from his compatriot, or this unlikely winning lob, back to court.

Djokovic jostled on the backhand

Destabilized by the audacity of the impudent youngster, the world number one is less clinical than usual and commits a bunch of gross errors (20 unforced errors in all in the first set), jostled on his backhand. Pushed to the tie-break after losing his lead in the fourth game, he is often the first to crack in the exchange, and his laser returns have remained in the locker room. Even his service, providential during bad days, is not of much help to him. Quite the opposite of Musetti, flamboyant on his stake, applauded under the ” Power ! ” after winning the first set (7-6 [7]).

The Serb had warned the day before to confront him: the youngest of the Italian colony knows just about everything with a racket in his hands. He was able to get an idea of ​​it by training with him, in Monte-Carlo or in Rome. Musetti flaunts his entire arsenal against the world number one: his machine gun forehands and, above all, his magic boot, his one-handed backhand, sometimes crossed, sometimes along the line, thanks to which he crucified more than once Djokovic at the net.

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Musetti has little to lose. Above all, he is not afraid of anyone. A novice on the circuit – at the end of 2020, he won his first title in Challenger (the second division) – he already has five victories against members of the Top 20. Djokovic may be far from his standards, but the ‘Italian has a lot to do with it, and shows a much more decent level of play on the pitch than his 76e world rank.

He quickly regained the lead in the second set, before letting the Serbian come back to height. The world number one is not on his plate. Led 2-0 in the decisive game, he does not even try to deliver a reflex forehand that passes under his nose, landing on the line. He lets this decisive game slip away, and here is the Italian who leads two innings to zero (7-6 [2]) after almost two and a half hours of play.

The hardest part begins for Musetti: closing the deal in three sets against a sacred monster. Many have tried it, few have been rewarded. The third round is an illustration of this: Djokovic takes advantage of the sudden excitement of his opponent, who lets go of his throw-in, and confirms his in stride. The world number one takes control of the match for the first time and breaks away 4-1. More aggressive, and above all more precise, he sends the third handle in twenty minutes. The “Come on Lorenzo” descend from the stands, in order to find the Musetti at the start of the game on the pitch.

“I know how to use them”

But the cold anger of the Serbian is the most formidable. The hemorrhage is confirmed in the fourth round for the plague, unable to hold his faceoff, when Djokovic continues the shutouts. Back to his best, the world number one concludes the set in just over a quarter of an hour and comes back to two races everywhere. “I went to change after the loss of the second set, and when I got on the court I was another player. I had better feelings, I started playing at the level where I should have started the match, Djokovic analyzed at a press conference. I like to play against youngsters in the best of five sets because I know how to use them, I have won most of the five-set games that I have played in my career, this experience helps. “

The time out for medical treatment requested by Musetti will not make him recover his spirits or his tennis. Disoriented on the court after yet another direct foul, the Italian, enraged, sends a ball into the stands. He gave up at 4-0 against him, before leaving the court to the applause of the public and that of his opponent.

“The first two sets, I played my best tennis; against the world number one, I was not unworthy, but I still have to improve physically. The five-set match against Cecchinato left its mark, I had cramps and pain in my lower back ”, explained Musetti, who denied any injury.

It is his turn to do this cruel apprenticeship: even when you are an artist, defying the sacred monsters of the circuit requires a masterpiece.