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“Signs of improvement on all surfaces” – Djokovic impressed by surging Musetti, and wary of the challenge
Away from the spotlight, 20-year-old Lorenzo Musetti continues to make his case as one of the most talented and well-rounded players of his generation.
All eyes will be on 19-year-olds Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune on Friday in Paris, and deservedly so, as the pair will contest the first all-teenage quarter-final in Paris Masters history. But don’t sleep on the other young gun, surging Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
Alcaraz, ranked No 1, and Rune, ranked 18, are the top-ranked players aged 20 and under on the ATP Tour. 20-year-old Musetti, ranked 23 is third and quickly rising. He is the man that defeated Alcaraz in a dramatic Hamburg final, a victory that the Italian cites as one of the most important matches of his career.
“I think there are a lot of matches that teach me a lot,” Musetti told Tennis Majors this summer, when reflecting on that victory. “The final in Hamburg was one of the biggest wins in my career and it was one of the toughest I ever played. I was winning with a lot of match points and I had to trust myself again in the third set – that was the first lesson.
“Of course winning against Carlos put me on the highest level that I can reach at the moment.”
That final was played on Musetti’s best surface – clay. Though he is not known for hard court prowess, he is starting to prove that he is also capable of big wins on the surface.
I invested a lot in playing on hard courts and getting the experience that I needed to play more aggressive, especially starting with the serve and the forehand.— Lorenzo Musetti
Djokovic – Musetti’s improving on hard courts
Musetti was 10-14 on hard courts entering 2022, without a title. In 2022, he has won his first title (at Napoli) and played to a 19-14 clip, reaching his first Masters 1000 quarter-final on the surface with Thursday’s win over third-seeded Casper Ruud.
Djokovic, who owns a 2-0 lifetime record against the Italian, has noticed the gains made by Musetti.
“Without a doubt, he has improved generally, but particularly on hard courts,” he said on Thursday in Paris. “I mean, we know that clay is his preferred surface, but I think maybe that has changed, because his first [hard court] title came in Napoli a few weeks ago. This week he has beaten some really high quality, top-ranked players.”
Another way to demonstrate the marked improvement Musetti has made on hard courts is by looking at his record against the top-50 on the surface.
Prior to his title run in Napoli, Musetti was 3-15. In the last month he has won five of six!
“He’s got a bright future ahead of him,” Djokovic says. “Things are coming together. It takes a few years for a young player to be on the tour to understand how the tour functions and understand what it takes to find that balance where you are able to consistently play well.
“Nowadays, you can’t be a top player if you’re playing only well on one surface. You have to be an all-around player, all-surface player. He’s showing, you know, the signs of an improvement on all surfaces. He’s got a complete game. One of the nicest one-handed backhands on the tour.”
Without a doubt, he has improved generally, but particularly on hard courts.Novak Djokovic on Lorenzo Musetti
Musetti – “I invested a lot in playing on hard courts”
This year at the US Open, where Musetti reached the third round for the first time, the Italian told Tennis Majors that he was pleased with the status of his game on the fast hard courts.
“I’m working really hard to make the hard court season a memorable one,” he said at the time. “I invested a lot in playing on hard courts and getting the experience that I needed to play more aggressive, especially starting with the serve and the forehand. Sometimes last year I was not able to go through the ball and I was standing back and not pushing so much, and now I am feeling more comfortable.
“I work really hard on the physical part to adjust all the right steps to do on the hard court season and I’m happy with the work, but of course I need to improve and to learn more, but all the sacrifice and hard work, it’s paying off for sure.”
Tomorrow will be the ultimate test for the Italian. Facing Novak Djokovic on an extremely fast hard court. Win or lose, the progress for Musetti will likely continue…