Champions always find inner strength to get back up when they are pushed into the corner, don’t they? And the World No.1, Novak Djokovic displayed that in abundance in his freakish French Open Round of 16 clash against Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti. The 34-year-old Serb was down two sets, losing the first two sets in tiebreakers. He survived the scare and unleashed the beast within him to complete a comeback to win 6-7(7) 6-7(2) 6-1 6-0, 4-0 (retired). With this win, Djokovic sealed a place in the quarterfinal at Roland Garros for the 15th time in his career. In that match, he will lock horns against another Italian, Matteo Berrettini.
It just seemed that Musetti had spent all his energy and mental toughness in winning the first two sets and had nothing left for the remainder of the contest. His reason for retiring midway through the fifth set was as shocking as it was witnessing his terrible slide in the last three sets. The 19-year-old won a solitary game after winning the first two sets.
French Open Quarterfinal Preview
Coming into this year’s French Open, the 18-time Major champion has had his issues on clay this season. While he won one title in his home tournament at Belgrade right before he arrived in Paris, the 2016 French Open champion suffered defeats at the hands of Dan Evans, Aslan Karatsev, and Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo Masters, Serbia Open, and Rome Masters respectively. His struggles against Musseti in his Round of 16 clash might be an indication that the Serb has not hit top gear yet. The powerful and hard-hitting Berrettini has the potential to hurt the Serb if he shows any signs of weakness or hesitancy.
While Djokovic had to stretch himself for five sets in his fourth round encounter, Berrettini advanced to the quarterfinal via walkover. Roger Federer abruptly decided to end his French Open campaign following an exhausting win over Dominik Koepfer. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Italian has dropped just a single set at this year’s French Open and had a decent clay season. Berrettini won the Serbia Open and was a finalist at Madrid Masters. He is eyeing a Grand Slam semifinal spot just for the second time in his career. He also reached the semifinals of the 2019 US Open.
In their only encounter so far on Tour, Djokovic schooled Berrettini 6-2 6-1 at the Nitto ATP finals in 2019, Berrettini’s best season on the tour.
Novak Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini
Berrettini has a power packed game that revolves around big serving and massive forehands. If he can mix that up with his effective drop shots, the Italian can be the player to beat on his day. However, can Berrettini maintain his intensity and consistency over the course of five grueling sets? The 25-year-old can certainly draw inspiration from his fellow countryman Marco Cecchinato, who upset the Serb at the same stage at Roland Garros in 2018.
As far as Djokovic is concerned, he might not have looked at his best against Musseti. But one can expect the Serb to have all the answers to the potential questions that Berrettini can throw at him. However, having said that, the Serb has a 10-4 W-L record in the quarterfinal round at Roland Garros and cannot afford any form of complacency against a tricky opponent like Berrettini.
After he received a walkover against Federer, the 25-year-old Italian might be fresh physically, but he hasn’t faced a serious competition so far at this year’s French Open. That can backfire on Berrettini, who faces a monumental task of locking horns against the World No.1.
Djokovic starts as a firm favorite. Nonetheless, there are evident cracks in his game, and Berrettini won’t need a second invitation to make any inroads as he fancies downing Djokovic.
Can Djokovic hold firm to advance to his third consecutive French Open semifinal? Or will Berrettini, playing out of his skin, cause an upset of monumental proportions to reach his maiden Roland Garros semifinal?
An intriguing contest awaits us at Phillipe Chatrier as Djokovic and Berrettini look forward to go toe to toe in the final quarterfinal on Wednesday at Paris.
Main Photo from Getty.