In a lot of respects, Lorenzo Musetti had a great 2021 season.
And that round of 16 showdown was far from the typical Djokovic mauling, with Musetti going up two-sets-to-none and frustrating Djokovic with his variety and counterpunching skills.
The Italian has talented almost oozing out of his body, whether it be his perfect drop shots, his ability to turn defense-into-offense, his neutralizing-backhand slice, or his heavy, deep forehand that makes it virtually-impossible for his opponents to attack.
Musetti’s touch at the net is another crucial aspect of his game, consistently putting away volleys with biting slice and elegant touch.
And through the 2021 French Open, it was a dream year for the 19-year-old.
Before Roland Garros, in the first five months of the season, Musetti made the final of the clay-court Antalya Challenger, the final of the indoor-hard Biella Challenger, the semifinals of the outdoor-hard ATP 500 in Acapulco from qualifying, the quarterfinals of the clay-ATP 250 in Sardegna, and the semifinals of the ATP 250 in Lyon.
By the second half of June, Musetti’s ranking had risen up to World No. 58 from World No. 128 at the beginning of the year. The top 50 seemed imminent and Musetti had set himself up to be the new face of Italian tennis.
But, the story of Musetti’s 2021 season is why it’s important to never look too far ahead into the future.
From the 2021 French Open until the end of the season, Musetti only won 5 matches, 4 if we don’t include qualifying, and he never reached beyond the second round of any of the 12 post-Roland Garros articles that he played.
Overall, his record from January through the French Open was 30-16 (including qualifying and Challengers). After the French Open, his record was 5-13.
The contrast is certainly stark and can’t be easily explained away by personal issues or a large decrease in the number of clay-court opportunities for Musetti, clay being the Italian’s favorite surface.
And, yes, Musetti did get some tough draws, post-Roland Garros. Facing Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon, Anderson in Cincinnati, Opelka at the US Open, and Sinner in Antwerp were going to be tough no matter his form.
Yet, there were bad losses thrown in there too. Whether that be Henri Laaksonen in Bastad, Federico Coria in Winston-Salem, or losing to Kuzmanov in Sofia. The latter two losses were perhaps the defining moments of the second half of Musetti’s 2021 year, as he was unable to figure out how to play a cramping opponent in Coria, and then in the Kuzmanov match, was just 2/19 on break points.
Musetti perhaps got too engrained in his comfort zone. The Italian is at his best, not necessarily when he’s at the baseline blasting winners left and right, but when he’s closer to the baseline and dictating play with his heavy forehand pulling opponents around the court with his varied shot selection.
Towards the end of 2021, one could find Musetti way behind the baseline, trying to out-rally his opponents. And it almost seemed like Musetti had too many shots at his disposal, miscalculating both the timing of his shots and what the right shot was to use. This isn’t particularly unusual for a young player without the years of tour-level experience at his disposal.
The good news for Lorenzo Musetti is that the downtick in results hasn’t hurt his ranking much at all, with a current ranking of World No. 59. In fact, in the midst of Musetti’s slump, he was able to reach his career-high in September of World No. 57.
However, if Musetti doesn’t make major adjustments to his game, his ranking might be stuck in avalanche, given how lopsided his 2021 results were.
So, where does the Italian go from here? How can he turn the tides and re-establish himself as a threat?
First, he needs to figure out how to re-introduce an aggressive mindset into his game. This means improving his court positioning and improving his shot selection.
On faster surfaces, at times, Musetti’s elongated groundstrokes can be exposed. Musetti will need to work on how he can adapt to playing off of clay and slower hard courts, whether it be blocking back more serves or chipping more groundstrokes.
One may look at Musetti’s splits on hard courts and clay and wonder if there’s really much of a difference in level at all. In 2021, Musetti won 59% of his clay-court matches and 55% of his hard-court matches. However, it is important to note that the hard-court event in Acapulco was extremely slow this year and helped to prop up his numbers on hard courts, as he made the semifinals of that event.
Musetti should not be afraid to go back down to the Challenger Tour to work out these kinks in his game. There’s no shame in playing on the Challenger Tour and the lower-stress environment might help Musetti regain his confidence.
For Lorenzo Musetti, the beginning of 2021 was drastically difference than the end. Yet, there’s no denying that the 19 year-old talent possesses an incredible amount of raw talent that his coach, Simone Tartarini will continue to cultivate.
As Tartarini said of Musetti’s game earlier this season to the ATP’s Andrew Eichenholz, “He played the same [as a kid], with a lot of extra spin, drop shots. I don’t want to change his feeling, just structure it”.
And while that structure started to fall apart as 2021 drew to a close, it’s clear that Tartarini understands Musetti’s game and can be a guiding force for him moving forward.
As Simone Tartarini stated, Lorenzo Musetti has played a similar style for a long time. One cannot try to completely rework his game and try to make Musetti a player that he isn’t.
But, with some minor adjustments combined with a fresh, confident demeanor, and Musetti will continue his ascent in 2022.
Main Photo from Getty.