After midnight in Paris, Stef exorcises ghosts on Chatrier

Last year’s finalist Tsitsipas comes back from a two-sets-to-love deficit to see off Musetti in round one

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Stephanie Livaudais

The last time that Stefanos Tsitsipas played a match on Court Philippe-Chatrier, he led Novak Djokovic by two-sets-to-love in the Roland-Garros final.

His first Grand Slam title was almost in sight only for it all to end in heartbreak as the world No.1 rallied all the way back.

On Tuesday night, Tsitsipas was the one trailing two-sets-to-love against a talented opponent with a one-handed backhand. But against 20-year-old Lorenzo Musetti, the No.4 seed exorcised any ghosts that might be lingering from last year’s final.

Tsitsipas and Musetti delighted fans over three hours and 36 minutes with an array of dazzling drop shots, backhand battles and gruelling rallies. But it was the No.4 seed who ultimately prevailed with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory, booking a second-round meeting with qualifier Zdenek Kolar.

Story of the match

It could have been a match plucked straight out of the Roland-Garros historical archives.

Tsitsipas and Musetti, two athletic, all-court players with stylish one-handed backhands, used every inch of Chatrier to slide, construct points and create sublime angles.

But the floodlights that lit up centre court on a chilly Parisian evening — not to mention the open roof overhead — grounded it firmly in the present, where the future of Italian tennis was looking to spring an upset on the Big Three’s heir in waiting.

Tsitsipas has been going from strength to strength this season since the tour hit the clay courts, defending his title in Monte-Carlo and reaching the Rome final a fortnight ago.

The 23-year-old carried all of that momentum into his opening match, and soon raced ahead to a daunting 4-1 lead against Musetti with points for another break of serve.

Stefanos Tsitsipas / Premier tour Roland-Garros 2022©Philippe Montigny / FFT

But that’s when Musetti jolted to life, scraping out a service hold with an ace and a big forehand winner. The Greek seemed rattled by the missed opportunities, and Musetti used the lapse to break back and work his way back into the contest.

Suddenly, we had a match.

Tsitsipas told press ahead of the tournament that he had “no flashbacks” of last year’s final when he returned to Chatrier. But he might have a sense of déjà vu as Musetti won seven of the next eight games, snapping up the first set and taking a healthy 4-0 lead in the second.

Musetti, who also suffered a defeat from two-sets-to-love against Djokovic last year, might have had some ghosts of his own rattling around. While he was able to close out the second set as Tsitsipas settled his nerves, he couldn’t hold off the Greek player for long once Tsitsipas began to read his game. 

Lorenzo Musetti, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

As the world No.66 directed traffic at his opponent’s one-handed backhand, Tsitsipas relied on his booming down-the-line forehand to boss the rallies. When Musetti targeted the same Tsitsipas shot with his serve, the No.4 seed began to lean in that direction to defuse the threat.

While the first set clocked in at over an hour, it took Tsitsipas just 27 minutes to claim the third set and swing the match back in his favour.

Musetti never faded away in the final sets, showing flashes of his first-set form throughout, but the frustrated resignation was clear in his body language as Tsitsipas grew in confidence across the net.

In the fifth, the Italian seemed to have finally run out of steam, and Tsitsipas served out his third match point to make his way through to the second round.

Stefanos Tsitsipas / Premier tour Roland-Garros 2022© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Key stats

Musetti’s game plan was clear from the start; unfortunately for him, it soon became clear to Tsitsipas too as the match went on.

In the first two sets, Musetti directed 77% of his first serves to Tsitsipas’ backhand. By the third set, where Tsitsipas got 100% of his returns into play, he could no longer count on catching Tsitsipas off guard. And by the fourth set, the Greek was already leaning in that direction while the Italian’s ball toss was still in the air.

Tsitsipas fired 64 winners across five sets, 38 of those coming in the final three sets. He outpaced Musetti from the ground, keeping him contained to 48 winners, and also at the net, where he won 67% (35/52) of points played.

What the players said

Tsitsipas, who won 73% (106/145) of points behind his first serve, said that shot was the key to finding a way back into the match.

“My serve was really off… maybe not the first few games of the match, but after, it completely collapsed. It wasn't there. That threw me off a lot,” he said after the match.

“Once I really found my momentum on the serve, my routines and everything, I knew that it can be a different match. I felt like I was serving better than him, creating more opportunities with my serve, pressing more.

“It would have been kind of not fair, from my perspective, to have a different outcome.”

After the victory, Tsitsipas left fans with one of his trademark messages written on the camera lens: "Leave your soul out there and Valhalla will be waiting for you.”

The clock read well after midnight by then, and Tsitsipas certainly left it all out on Chatrier tonight.