The world No 1 spent three hours and 27 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier; he had fought back from two sets down before the Italian teenager was forced to retire in the closing stages of the fifth set; Djokovic will now face Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals
Monday 7 June 2021 21:08, UK
Novak Djokovic progressed into the quarter-finals of the French Open after a stern test from Lorenzo Musetti. The world No 1 had wrestled the fourth-round match back from two sets down, before the Italian teenager was forced to retire late in the fifth set.
The contest ended when Djokovic was just two games away from victory at 6-7 (9-7) 6-7 (7-2) 6-1 6-0 4-0.
Musetti, who is ranked 76 in the world and playing in his first French Open, had produced inspired tennis for the first two sets before struggling physically as the match progressed.
He took a medical timeout prior to the fifth set and after conceding the contest, he left the court looking incredibly disappointed.
Matteo Berrettini will be Djokovic's quarter-final opponent, after he was the beneficiary of Roger Federer's withdrawal from the competition.
Rafael Nadal will take to Court Philippe Chatrier a little later on Monday afternoon and face another Italian teenager, Jannik Sinner.
For two sets the world No 1 was pushed both physically and mentally by his younger opponent.
Although Musetti hadn't faced Djokovic on the tour before, he had practised with him, and the 19-year-old put his understanding to good use.
The teenager came from 4-1 down in the opening tie-break and after unleashing a series of single-handed backhand winners, he took it 9-7.
At the start of the second set, Musetti made an important hold. He continued to use his kick serve to great effect, matched Djokovic from the back of the court and introduced superbly timed slices and drop shots into his game.
Again, the set went the distance. This time, Musetti took the early lead and from 4-0 up, he calmly secured it to send ripples of anticipation around Court Philippe Chatrier that a major upset might be on the cards.
Next, came the turning point in the contest. Djokovic left court to change clothing and when he returned, he had a new sense of purpose.
As every minute passed, the Serb grew in stature and in contrast, his teenage opponent's energy levels dwindled. Djokovic took the third set in just 24 minutes and in the fourth, he dropped just four points.
Prior to the start of the decider, Musetti took a medical timeout and headed off court to receive treatment.
Once the Italian returned, he re-introduced his kick serve but still didn't look as sharp or fresh as he had done earlier in the match. Then, facing a 4-0 deficit, he opted to call time on proceedings and shook hands with Djokovic.
|2005 Wimbledon||Guillermo Garcia-Lopez|
|2011 US Open||Roger Federer|
|2012 French Open||Andreas Seppi|
|2015 Wimbledon||Kevin Anderson|
After the contest, with a place now safely booked in the quarter-finals, Djokovic explained how he'd been feeling during the early stages of the match. He also shed more light on its turning point.
"I would say that I was more nervous when I was starting the match, than when I was two sets down," the world No 1 said. "After I lost the second set and went out to change, I came back on the court and just felt different.
"I was a different player. I had better feeling in my shots and more confidence going through the ball. I decreased the amount of errors and started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning.
"Towards the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, I saw that he was struggling physically. Obviously, that gave me even more motivation, I guess, to try to apply more pressure on him and kind of finish him off.
"It's unfortunate for a young player like him, that he was unable to physically sustain the level to at least to give himself a chance to win this match, because he was in a driving position, definitely, for the first couple of sets."
Musetti said that his physical challenges came from cramps and lower back pain, as opposed to an injury. He noted that he'd continue to work on his conditioning as well as taking the positives from the encounter.
"For me, it was a fantastic experience. I was playing my best tennis, for sure. I have never played like it. Of course, I'm a little bit disappointed, but I played against No 1 in the world and I took the first two sets.
"He started [to] play really well, and then I had some problems with my physical part. I think I have to work there, but I'm happy with this week and with the tennis that I have shown."