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What makes Lorenzo Musetti so special?

Lorenzo Musetti hits a backhand
Lorenzo Musetti hits a backhand
Rudra Biswas
ANALYST
Modified 20 Mar 2021
Feature

Lorenzo Musetti's Acapulco run was ended by Stefanos Tsitsipas without much fuss on Saturday. But over the course of the week Musetti gave the fans in the Mexican city - and also in the rest of the world - more than a few glimpses of his irresistible talent.

It goes without saying that the Italian prodigy, who had to go through qualifying just to enter the main draw, will have a lot of positives to take from the tournament. Not only did Musetti reach his first ever semifinal at the ATP 500 level, but he also ensured that on the coming Monday he will join countryman Jannik Sinner as the only two teenagers to be ranked in the top 100.

Born in 2002, Lorenzo Musetti has been touted by many as the future of men's tennis - along with Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune. Even Tsitsipas seemed to echo that sentiment after his win over Musetti, asserting that this isn't the last we've seen of the 19-year-old.

"We'll definitely see a lot from Lorenzo in the future," Tsitsipas said. "He has a wonderful one-handed backhand and creates lots of opportunities. He showed his level this week."

The Greek was spot on in singling out Musetti's backhand; the Italian already has one of the biggest single-handers in the world. Musetti's forehand is also capable of producing spectacular winners, but he tends to bank on his fluid backhand a little more.

One-handed backhands have become a rarity of sorts on the pro tour, with most players today employing two-handed backhands for stability. That is probably why a single-hander - already a more aesthetic shot - attracts even more attention whenever it makes an appearance on the court.

And when a young tyke like Lorenzo Musetti utilizes this dying art, this guilty pleasure, and still produces effective results, it becomes the talk of the tennis community.

The Lorenzo Musetti backhand: A shot heard around the world

Lorenzo Musetti hitting a backhand
Lorenzo Musetti hitting a backhand

Hardcore tennis fans would know that Acapulco isn't the first time Lorenzo Musetti has sizzled on the big stage. The Italian had first announced himself at the Rome Masters last year, after qualifying into the main draw of an ATP tournament for only the second time in his career.

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Lorenzo Musetti put up an exemplary display of claycourt tennis to beat three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round. He even bagelled Wawrinka in the first set, playing with razor-sharp precision on both wings.

The most striking feature of that match, however, was that Musetti outdid Wawrinka in the backhand-to-backhand rallies.

The Italian's swing path on the backhand allows him to hit the ball both early on the rise and from deep behind the baseline. When the 19-year-old winds up to hit his single-hander, it's almost like you hear the words "the wick has been lit" in your head.

The impeccable racket-head speed and timing on Lorenzo Musetti's backhand have prompted many fans and pundits to compare it with his idol Roger Federer, who has a similar take-back and wind-up. And if Musetti's trainer Simone Tartarini is to be believed, the 19-year-old is an idealist who prefers his powerful single-hander over his forehand.

"He has always played it with one hand," Tartarini said earlier this week. "When he was little he had less strength and he sliced a lot more, he always liked it. Almost too much for me, I wish he played more with his forehand but his backhand is so natural. When things are not going well in a match, he will play a long backhand."

Lorenzo Musetti: Not just pomp and flash, but a lot of heart too

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Lorenzo Musetti announced himself to the world at Rome last year
Lorenzo Musetti announced himself to the world at Rome last year

Aside from the obvious beauty and spectacle of Lorenzo Musetti's game, his ability to win intense three-set matches has impressed everyone too.

Ranked 120th in the world before the 500-level Acapulco event, Musetti actually didn't start particularly well. In the first round of the qualifiers, the Italian dropped his first four service games against World No. 883 Juan Alejandro Hernande and lost the first set 6-1.

But he switched gears incredibly well in the next two sets, eventually qualifying for the main draw. And that was where he put up the gutsiest displays of his short career so far.

Lorenzo Musetti probably himself realizes the danger of relying more on his backhand than his forehand. But he still plays with the same strategy and point-by-point intensity from the baseline, not afraid to be trapped in his backhand corner. Call it stubbornness or youthful exuberance, but Musetti's choice of play has worked for him so far.

Lorenzo Musetti celebrates after beating Grigor Dimitrov
Lorenzo Musetti celebrates after beating Grigor Dimitrov

The Italian's commitment to his style of play did put him in a hole several times during his run in Acapulco. During his three-set win against World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman in the first round, the Italian raced to a double break lead in the decider and then went 0-40 up as Schwartzman served to stay in the match. But he let those match points slip by with some erratic play on his backhand.

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Musetti was broken in the next game as he served for the match at 5-3, but was able to close the match on the second time of asking.

The 19-year-old was again stretched to three sets in the Round of 16, but he served for the match at 6-5. No prizes for guessing what happened next: Musetti wasted a match point and got broken, before playing a flawless tiebreaker to reach the quarterfinals.

The Italian's killer instinct again came to the forefront in his match against Grigor Dimitrov. Musetti got off the blocks at supersonic speed as he dictated the play with his down-the-line backhand. But as the match reached its closing moments, it became apparent that he was going to suffer another shaky period.

On his first match point, with Dimitrov serving, Musetti could have moved around his backhand and unloaded on his forehand. But he insisted on sticking to his backhand, and ended up hitting a feeble return followed by an unforced error.

Musetti wasted four more match points as the second set went to a tiebreaker. But the Italian's insistence on playing the same shot and paying no heed to pragmatism eventually worked, as he outplayed Dimitrov in the breaker to march into the semis.

Lorenzo Musetti's struggles to get over the finish line certainly betrayed his lack of experience at the highest level. But just as quickly as his inexperience seemed to get the better of him, his youthful courage pulled him out of the mire.

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It was almost like the 19-year-old reveled in his 'chokes'. He produced his best in every match when the battle reached its dramatic peak, turning to the crowd after each glorious winner and asking for louder cheers.

Lorenzo Musetti stumbled several times during his week in Acapulco, but he had enough confidence in his genius to compensate for any missed opportunities. And that's as special a quality as any in a tennis pl

Published 20 Mar 2021, 22:17 IST
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