Novak Djokovic survived a formidable test up against the 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti in the fourth round at the French Open, with the Serbian rallying from two sets down to reach the quarterfinals a 6-7 6-7 6-1 6-0 4-0 winner. He had arrived into the match in fine form, having won his last seven matches and lost only a handful of games in coming through the first week with straight-sets wins over Tennys Sandgren, Pablo Cuevas and Ricardas Berankis.
Musetti, in contrast, had to work hard for his berth in the second round. After opening his campaign at Roland Garros with impressive straight-sets wins over the struggling David Goffin and Yoshihito Nishioka, Musetti then battled past his countryman Marco Cecchinato, a semifinalist at the French Open in 2018, in five sets to set up a fourth-round clash with Djokovic. But few expected the 19-year-old to trouble the great man, particularly as he was playing in a main draw at a Major for the first time.
When Djokovic broke to love early in the first set, it looked like being another routine day at the office for the Serbian. But Musetti does not lack belief and his wide range of shots disturbed Djokovic’s rhythm. The Italian broke back and eventually forced a tiebreak. The world #1 made the better start, at one point leading 4-1, but he proved unable to press home his advantage against the Italian, who entered the match having won every tiebreak he had played in his professional career.
He maintained that perfect record by firing a punishing forehand past Djokovic to seal the first-set tiebreak 9-7. Musetti then stole a march early in the second by breaking Djokovic, only to yield the advantage immediately. But, undeterred, he continued to put pressure on the Djokovic serve, with the Serbian largely reliant on his first serve to keep his opponent at bay. The result was another tiebreak. But Djokovic rather gave it away, making a number of very poor errors, to lose it 2-7.
That demanded a response from the 18-time Major champion and it arrived swiftly. After taking a comfort break between sets, Djokovic emerged looking refreshed and he stormed through the third set, winning it for the loss of just one game. Musetti, perhaps taken aback by Djokovic’s sudden shift through the gears, was able to little resistance. That pattern of play continued into the fourth, with Djokovic racing out to a 4-0 lead, having won the first 16 points of the set.
Musetti dug in to at least win a handful of points and banish the spectre of losing a ‘Golden Set’, but his success was being measured in points not games won. Djokovic saved two game points to break again for a 5-0 lead, leaving Musetti scrambling to regroup ahead of the fifth set. But with Djokovic in such rampant form and Musetti’s legs looking heavy, that looked like being a tall order for the inexperienced Italian.
Musetti took a medical timeout off-court ahead of the start of the decider, but it was to no avail. Djokovic was even able to win points having fallen over as Musetti’s challenge began to fade in the face of his own exhaustion and Djokovic’s brilliance. Musetti continued to show flashes off his best tennis, but the match was running away from him quickly. In the end, the physical demands simply proved too much for the Italian, who found himself forced to retire trailing 0-4 in the fifth.
It was a disappointing end to what had threatened to turn into an all-time classic after the first two sets, but a mighty relief for Djokovic too. The Serbian will now face Matteo Berrettini, who benefited from Roger Federer’s withdrawal ahead of the fourth round, for a place in the semifinals. Djokovic, having come perilously close to defeat, will be desperate to get back to his best, but Musetti’s performance will surely have created confidence in the rest of the field that they can take on and beat the world #1.
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