Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Meet Lorenzo Musetti, the Italian eyeing Wimbledon final after beating Taylor Fritz

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Prior to his first Grand Slam quarter-final against Taylor Fritz on Wednesday at Wimbledon, Lorenzo Musetti was asked about the important topics at hand: his tattoos. The 22-year-old has three. The first is a heart with a tennis racket in the middle, the second is a ship’s anchor with “family” written on it and the third is a phrase shared with his coach: “Il meglio deve ancora venire.”

It translates: “The best is yet to come.”

Well, Musetti has saved the best tennis of his fledgling career for the grass of the All England Club and, to be specific, in the fifth set of a three-and-a-half hour marathon against American favourite Fritz. After four sets of back and forth, momentum swings aplenty, Musetti wiped out Fritz 6-1 in the final set with a stunning array of old-school, grass-court tennis.

We’re talking exquisite drop shots, caressed backhand slices and carefully placed volleys. And, of course, some spectacular single-handed backhands. Lump in a host of variety alongside deep-rooted aggression and you get this: a player right at the top of his game on the slick grass of Wimbledon. And after taking Novak Djokovic to five sets and 3am at Roland Garros a month or so ago, the Italian will be quietly confident of an upset against the Serb in the final four on Friday.

“I mean, I probably have no words,” he said after reaching his first major semi-final. “It’s tough to speak, but I’ll try my best. I think I [haven’t] realised yet what I’ve done.

“Probably I played my best tennis [in the final set], I kept the best for the end. Probably it was not the best start [before that], because Taylor was really leading the game, especially with the serve.

“I think I really played a fantastic match, because Taylor was really in great shape.”

He’s right. Musetti won the pair’s last encounter on his preferred clay in Monte Carlo in April but on the speedier grass of southwest London, Fritz picked up where he left off in the fourth round, where he emerged victorious in a five-set battle against fourth seed Alexander Zverev.

After saving a break point in his opening service game, Fritz dominated the first set as Musetti missed the mark with his sliced backhand. Thirteen unforced errors in just over half-an-hour told the story of the Italian’s poor start, as one break of serve was enough for the big-hitting American to take the lead.

Fritz quickly broke again at the start of the second set, with Musetti peculiarly persevering with an inconsistent backhand drop-shot which, well, consistently found the net. But then came, on reflection, the turning point. The moment where Fritz let this match leave his grasp. A loose game, gifting the break immediately back to the Italian.

Lorenzo Musetti soaks in his victory
Lorenzo Musetti soaks in his victory (PA)
Fritz failed to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final
Fritz failed to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final (Getty)

Was it fatigue? Perhaps. Because suddenly, Fritz’s level dropped severely. A tiebreak would settle the second-set but Musetti had now found his rhythm and was playing inspired shots off both forehand and backhand. One final service bomb secured the second set.

Fritz then fell apart. Rapidly. Musetti had the 6ft 4in American racing to all corners of the court and the Italian, ranked 12 places lower, was in control. He stormed through the third set but a random, loose game in the middle of the fourth gifted a break – and the set – to his rejuvenated opponent.

The momentum then seemed with Fritz but, in a flash, Musetti took control again. He sealed his first break of the decider with a tremendous whipped forehand winner and a double break soon followed. Fritz took a nasty tumble on the penultimate point but Musetti, on the cusp of the biggest result of his career, showed no mercy. He looked up to his box – and his long-term coach Simone Tartarni – in disbelief as Fritz sailed his final return long.

Defeating a refreshed seven-time champion in Djokovic on Friday will be some ask. But he’s got close before – and beat the Serb in Monte Carlo last year.

On facing Djokovic, he said: “In the last years, [he’s done] something really unthinkable for anyone [here], and I’ve had the chance to play against him many times, so we know each other really well. They’ve always been huge fights, so I expect a big, big fight. I think it’s going to be one of the toughest challenges on tour.

“But I’m an ambitious guy and I like to be challenged.”

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