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Djokovic and Nadal Tested by Italian Teenagers, but Move One Step Closer to Semifinal Showdown

Rafael Nadal (R) of Spain is congratulated by Jannik Sinner (L) of Italy after winning their 4th round match at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2021. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG



By Ricky Dimon

The Italian teenagers threw scares into a pair of all-time greats on Monday at Roland Garros–one more than the other.

In the end, however, Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner were no match for Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic preceded his chief rival into the French Open quarterfinals when he got a fifth-set retirement from Musetti while leading 6-7(6), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0. The world No. 1 was well on his way to a comeback victory before advancing in three hours and 27 minutes.

Novak Djokovic (back) of Serbia shakes hands with Lorenzo Musetti (front) of Italy after their 4th round match at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2021. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON



The 19-year-old, who was coming off a five-setter against compatriot Marco Cecchinato, explained afterward that he did not have a specific injury–even though he was definitely struggling physically in the fourth and fifth sets.

“No, no, no, it’s not an injury,” Musetti explained. “It’s, well, just a little bit of cramps and a little bit of low back pain. I was not anymore able to win a point, and so was not really–grateful also for the crowd that was there–so I decided to retire. There was no chance that I could win a point, so I decided to retire because I think it was the best thing to do it.”

Lorenzo Musetti of Italy reacts during the 4th round match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2021. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

It was also the best tennis he had played–at least for two sets.

“For me (it) was a fantastic experience,” Musetti assured. “I was playing, I think, my best tennis, for sure. I have never played like today. The first two sets were really long, like…more than two hours. Of course I’m a little bit disappointed, but I played I think against No. 1 in the world and I took him the first two sets. I mean, he started to play really good, and then I had some problems with my physical part. Yeah, I think I have to work there.”



As for Djokovic, even down two sets he was never worried.

“I was saying before that I like to play young guys in best-of-five,” the top-seeded Serb commented, “because I feel even if they are leading a set or two sets to love as it was the case today, I still like my chances because I feel like I’m physically fit and I know how to wear my opponent down in the best-of-five match. And, you know, I’ve won most of the five-setters I have played in this tournament and in my career, so I think that experience helps.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after the 4th round match against Lorenzo Musetti of Italy at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 07 June 2021. EPA-EFE/CAROLINE BLUMBERG



Nadal had way too much experience–and was simply way too good–for Sinner in their second meetings in as many French Opens. In last year’s quarterfinals, the Spaniard prevailed 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 after his opponent had a set point in the opener. This time around, Nadal cruised via a similar 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 scoreline after Sinner led 5-3 in the first set.

“I think he played (at a) very high level today,” the 19-year-old assessed. “He was pushing the ball very hard. So that makes that you are not going to play the tennis you would like to. In one way at some points he was playing — he was playing and I was only running at some points.

“As I said the way is very long — still long — and I hope I can still have one more chance to play against him. Obviously I would like to see another test, and then we will see what’s happening. But, yeah, the way is long.”

For a while the teenagers thought they might be close. Now they know they–like almost everyone else–is still far away from two of the goats.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.