It is exciting that The Championships at Wimbledon, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, are just around the corner. The royal Slam is often considered the most coveted among the four Majors. As memories of a surreal French Open are still fresh, Wimbledon has already had a few high-profile withdrawals, including those of two-time champion Rafael Nadal and four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka. Furthermore, this Wimbledon will also see two-time champion Andy Murray making his first appearance at the singles event in four years.
Even as five-time champion Novak Djokovic remains a strong favorite at the Championships, the rising talents of the next generation–especially the English and the Italian–are raising hopes of ending the Serbian’s dominance in Slams in 2021. The World No.1 has perhaps the best opportunity in history to complete the Golden Grand Slam, more so with his greatest rival Rafael Nadal deciding to skip both Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics.
Home contenders Jack Draper, Dan Evans, and Cameron Norrie put up an impressive show at the Queen’s Club Championships last week. Norrie, in particular, overpowered Spaniard Alberto Ramos-Vinolas before taking out the dangerous Russian Aslan Karatsev, to set up a quarterfinal clash with compatriot Jack Draper. There, he eliminated the 19-year-old on the back of a great first serve and a strong baseline game, creating and converting service break opportunities early in both sets. The left-handed Brit then saw off World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov after a precarious start, to set up a final showdown with World No.9 and top seed Matteo Berrettini. One would expect the three Brits to deliver solid performances in the upcoming Major.
Lorenzo Musetti is an underdog with the potential to upset higher-ranked opponents. The unassuming Italian teenager begins the grass season with a 30-16 win-loss career record, all on hard courts or clay. He had to forego Wimbledon warm-up tournaments due to academic commitments. Although he has no professional experience on grass courts, the quicker grass courts might suit Musetti’s playing style. At the French Open, Musetti impressed against eventual champion Djokovic before the latter seized control. The 19-year-old eventually retired on account of an injury in the middle of the fifth set–perhaps an indication that he is not well accustomed, both mentally and physically, to deal with five-set situations.
This was not the first time Musetti had troubled a top seed. The Italian showed his class as he took the opening set against World No.5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Lyon semifinal in May. However, the latter stayed focused to come back and win the next two sets.
The World No.76 has a knack for cutting rallies shorter and surprising his opponents with a variety of shots that he executes with confidence and finesse. No wonder that behind the scenes is some exceptional coaching and development. Musetti and other young compatriots are products of what can be called as a new-age movement that follows a no-nonsense approach, putting long-term goals and growth prior to everything else. The tennis world has witnessed similar and largely unexplained surges in the past–the Germans in the late ’80s and the Serbians more recently. While those movements produced all-time greats, will the Italian movement in modern tennis produce another?
Musetti needs to work on his serve
Musetti has a penchant for the drop shot, which he excels at, and uses it often to disturb his opponents’ rhythm. The Italian has a wide-ranging arsenal of shots that includes a reliable forehand, a versatile single-handed backhand, a highly effective slice, and lofts that he can innovate every now and then. What is missing in his repertoire, though, is an effective serve. On grass, a versatile and quick serve is crucial. A weak serve can set the most skilled of players behind in crunch points.
The Italian system of analytics-driven coaching is fostering a revolution in the sport. The young crop of talent may spring a few surprises at Wimbledon next fortnight. Lorenzo Musetti is one of them. If he works on his shortcomings, there is no doubt Musetti can move up the rankings swiftly to put Italian tennis in front.
Main Photo from Getty.