Djokovic v Musetti: Things we learned

The world No.1 advanced to the quarter-finals but was given an almighty scare by Italian sensation Lorenzo Musetti.

Novak Djokovic, Lorenzo Musetti, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Novak Djokovic was against the ropes, but just like countless times in his trophy-laden career, the top seed found the answers.

For two hours and 21 astonishing minutes, Grand Slam debutant Lorenzo Musetti sparkled on Court Philippe-Chatrier to open up a two-set lead with a captivating concoction of flamboyant strokes, improvisation and composure.

Djokovic however rediscovered his full repertoire to pounce on the physically-wilting teenager, who was forced to retire with a groin injury at 6-7(7), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0 on Monday.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion heads on to tackle another Italian Matteo Berrettini in his record 15th Roland-Garros quarter-final.

Here is what we learned from this battle of generations…

Glimpse into a golden future

When Djokovic led 3-1 in the first set, it appeared the 2016 champion was going to grasp the initiative. Musetti had other ideas.

The 19-year-old trusted his game against one of the greatest of all-time and played with complete freedom.

Musetti, ranked at No.284 this time last year, connected with one of the hardest shots in tennis, backpedaling to clip a backhand smash cross-court to help erase the Serbian’s early advantage.

It was a warning sign for Djokovic.

Musetti didn’t look rushed at any time in the opening two sets, pinging a hot-shot reel of down-the-line backhands and prevailing in a collection of cat-and-mouse rallies.

Remember this was the Italian’s first ever major main draw. He’ll only get stronger and more robust. Put simply, we are in for a treat to see Musetti, with his Samurai hairstyle, wield his racquet in many Roland-Garros tournaments to come.

Nerves and tension can shackle the world’s best

Despite reaching 49 Grand Slam quarter-finals the hype and pressure can still take its toll.

“I would say, more nervous when I was starting the match than when I was two sets down,” revealed Djokovic, having battled back from two sets down for the fifth time at a Grand Slam.

“To be honest, I even liked the fact that I lost first couple of sets, I just played under 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 in the first couple of sets.

“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. I have had better feeling in my shots. I had just more confidence going through the ball. I decreased the amount of errors. Started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning.”

You can chip away at Novak

The Musetti's scorching shot-making punctuated the opening sets, but the underrated area will be the world No.76’s slice backhand.

The teenage prodigy used it frequently, landing short and more often than not into the middle of the court. This denied Djokovic any obvious angle to work with and kept the 34-year-old off balance.

The top seed struggled to find a defined answer, overcooking forehands, losing out in net exchanges, and for a while there, was outplayed.

Despite the youngster’s injury, Djokovic was far more dialled in during the third set, clamping down on the errors and ramping up the aggression to make matters worse for Musetti.

Lorenzo Musetti / Roland-Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Musetti can take the heat

Again, focusing on the opening two sets, the 19-year-old proved her can thrive in the pressure points.

So much so, that Musetti remains unbeaten in tiebreaks at tour-level, moving to 10 out of 10 on Court Phlippe-Chatrier.

He’s a risk-taker, which is part of his charm. Down 1-4 in the opening-set tiebreak, he flashed two brushstroke backhands down-the-line.

In the tense exchanges at 7-7 he fell over during one drop-shot exchange, but still managed to find a winner on the back foot. Then at the third time of asking, Musetti struck a lightning bolt inside-out forehand winner to clinch the opener.

Such instinctive and brave hitting offered up a multitude of magic moments in the heat of the battle.

'Experience is the best teacher'

Credit to the world No.1 for rebooting at the start of the third set to devastating effect and wearing Musetti down physically and mentally. 

The Serb picked up 16 successive points at the start of the fourth, which pretty much wrapped up the contest. The knowhow of an 18-time major winner was beamed on screens across the globe. 

“At the beginning of my career, I was also struggling with injuries and had to retire in a few matches at the Grand Slams. That's obviously not fun. But, look, Musetti won five sets against Cecchinato last round,” mused the 2016 champion.

Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“It's a mix between emotions and kind of an excitement but at the same time the pressure of not knowing how he's going to feel playing first time on the centre court against a top player.  A new experience can go both ways. It can give you really a boost of energy and strength, because you have nothing to lose, but it could take away a lot of energy out of a player.

“The experience is the best teacher. Musetti has definitely all the qualities in his tennis, on clay particularly, but also other surfaces to be a top player. I think if he keeps going in this way, he's definitely on the right path to become a top player one day.”

Magic Musetti will be back, while Djokovic has that giant reservoir of experience to draw upon in the last eight.