‘I felt more nervous when I was starting the match than when I was two sets down,’ admits Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic fought off nerves and the teenage exuberance of Lorenzo Musetti to reach his 15th quarter-final at the French Open.
This was a first chance for 19-year-old Musetti, playing in his maiden grand slam, to test himself against one of the sport’s big beasts and for two sets the Italian was mesmerising before fading dramatically, pulling the plug trailing 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.
Djokovic had cruised through his first three matches, but the world number one said: “I actually felt more nervous when I was starting the match than when I was two sets down.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2021
“To be honest, I even liked the fact that I lost the first couple of sets because I just played under a certain kind of tension and wasn’t able to go through my shots. Too many unforced errors and just not playing and not feeling great.
“But credit to him for playing well in important moments. After I lost the second set and went out to change and came back on the court, I just felt different. I was a different player. Started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning.
“Then towards the end of the third, beginning of the fourth, I saw that he’s struggling physically. Obviously that gave me even more motivation to try to apply more pressure on him and finish him off. That was the case.
“It’s unfortunate for a young player like him, being two sets to love up on the centre court in his first fourth round, he was unable to physically sustain the level, at least to give himself a chance to win this match, because he was in a driving position, definitely, for the first couple sets.”
An incredible effort. An incredible tournament. 👏
We’ll be seeing plenty more of 🇮🇹 Lorenzo Musetti!
— ATP Tour (@atptour) June 7, 2021
Musetti’s one-handed backhand is his signature shot and he used it brilliantly, pulling off spectacular winners but surprising Djokovic also with its versatility and robustness.
The Serbian looked edgy and made unexpected errors, particularly in the two tie-breaks – remarkably, the young Italian has won all 10 he has played at tour level.
When Musetti took the second set, one of the biggest upsets of recent years appeared on the cards, but Djokovic came out firing at the start of the third set and that was all it took to change the momentum completely.
The Italian youngster had mixed feelings afterwards, saying: “It was a fantastic experience. I was playing, I think, my best tennis, for sure. I have never played like today.
“The first two sets were really long. Of course I’m a little bit disappointed but I played against the number one in the world and I took the first two sets. He started to play really good and then I had some problems with my physical part. I think I have to work there.”
Explaining his decision to retire, Musetti added: “It was just a little bit of cramps and a little bit of low back pain. I was not any more able to win a point, and so it was not really great for the crowd that was there, so I decided to retire.”
Musetti certainly did enough to impress Djokovic, who could empathise having struggled with the physicality of the sport in his early years on tour.
“Experience is the best teacher,” said the top seed. “Musetti has definitely all the qualities in his tennis, in his game on clay particularly, but also other surfaces, to be a top player. I wish him all the best.”
In the last eight Djokovic will face another Italian, Matteo Berrettini, who was the beneficiary of Roger Federer’s withdrawal.
Diego Schwartzman has made it through to the quarter-finals without losing a set, but that hardly tells the story of a dramatic 7-6 (11-9), 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.
2023 Australian Open women’s final info, form, H2H, preview: Elena Rybakina vs Aryna Sabalenka
All the info you need ahead of the 2023 Australian Open women’s final.
Elena Rybakina: Why the quiet girl is set to dominate Grand Slam tennis
Elena Rybakina could be an all-timer.
Mats Wilander expects Elena Rybakina to make ’10 grand slam finals’
Kazakhstan’s Rybakina beat Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-3 to set up a final with Belarusian fifth-seed Sabalenka.
Australian Open day 11: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina reach women’s final
The story of the 11th day of action from Melbourne Park.
Aryna Sabalenka books power battle with Elena Rybakina in Australian Open final
Sabalenka beat Magda Linette 7-6 (1) 6-2 to reach her first grand slam singles final.
Novak Djokovic plunged into fresh controversy and he needs to fix it quickly
Novak Djokovic needs to do all he can to clean up the mess created by his father as quickly as possible.
WATCH: Andy Murray shares hilarious mock lipreading video from Thanasi Kokkinakis clash
Andy Murray saw the funny side of a TikTok video from his Australian Open second round win.
Novak Djokovic still motivated by Rafael Nadal rivalry
That Grand Slam record is on Novak Djokovic’s mind for sure.
Elena Rybakina clinches straight sets semi-final win over Victoria Azarenka
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Victoria Azarenka to reach her second grand slam final at the Australian Open.