Musetti announces himself with Wawrinka win

Musetti announces himself with Wawrinka win

Morning all. Its Wednesday today and I have a hangover. This is not good, clearly, but it was basically inevitable considering that yesterday was Mexican Independence Day. On this day 210 years ago, Miguel Hidalgo and his pals decided they had had enough of Spanish colonial rule and started the Mexican War of Independence, which eventually resulted in sovereignty and the birth of the Mexican nation in 1821. Good lads.

Never short of reasons to party, locals celebrate their country’s birthday every year by painting the Mexican flag onto their face, eating pozole, a hearty chicken soup, listening to the president shout patriotic things to a rapt audience in Mexico City’s enormous central square (which, ironically, was built by the Spanish), and of course drinking lots of alcohol. Depending on where you are in the country, your glass might be filled with tequila, beer, wine, or a combination of all three. I happened to be celebrating with my girlfriend’s family, who hail from Oaxaca, and so it was mezcal that was flowing around table. A traditional drink that pre-dates the Spanish colonization of Mexico, mezcal felt an appropriate choice. The celebrations were slightly different this year – the Mexico City square was empty for the first time in history and I was told off for not wearing a face mask on my way to the toilet – but that did not stop us ploughing through a couple of bottles of the delicious, potent liquor. And now my head hurts.

For obvious reasons, the vast majority of people are not working today. But I have crawled out of bed, popped a couple of paracetamol and brewed myself a coffee all in the name of giving you wonderful people something to read today. If there is the odd typo in the following paragraphs, now you know why.

Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about a tennis match I watched yesterday. In the first round of the Rome Masters, 18-year-old local boy Lorenzo Musetti, making his debut on the ATP Tour, took down Stan Wawrinka in straight sets. Not only that, he bagled the three-time Grand Slam champion and world number 15 in the first set and completely outplayed him in the tiebreaker in the second.

It was a quite brilliant performance from Musetti. I turned on when the score was 4-0 in the first set and, given the gulf in pedigree and experience between the two players, I just assumed that Wawrinka had made a slow start in his first match for six months (the Swiss opted not to travel to the US for the tour’s post-COVID resumption last month). But in the first point I saw, Musetti hit a number of deep, piercing backhands and finished it off with a perfect drop shot. As the young Italian easily wrapped up the first set and took a 2-0 lead in the second, it quickly became clear that Wawrinka was not playing badly; he was simply unable to cope with his opponent’s quality and consistency.

On first sight, there is so much to like about Musetti’s game. Like most tennis purists, I am a sucker for a one-handed backhand and the Italian’s is beautiful. With a big backlift, extended follow-through and heavy topspin, it looks like a mix of Richard Gasquet and Roger Federer. And just like those two, Musetti has wonderful touch; I must have counted at least five clean drop shot winners, including one from well behind the baseline on a big point in the tiebreaker. The world number 249 looks comfortable at the net and his forehand has real venom.

What I most enjoyed about Musetti yesterday, however, was his mentality. When Wawrinka came back at him and started to play really well in the latter stages of the second set, the Italian simply raised his game in response. Many young players might have wilted under the pressure, but Musetti never looked flustered. Nor did he overreact to winning points; scorching winners were met with a calm fist pump rather than flamboyant cries of joy. He looked entirely at ease and at home on one of tennis’s biggest stages.

A quick Google after the match revealed that perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the teenager’s performance. On the junior circuit, Musetti topped the rankings after winning the Australian Open title in 2019 and finishing as a runner-up at the US Open the previous year. He has been tipped for big things for some time now and looks determined to fulfill that potential.

Musetti will play Kei Nishikori in the second round tomorrow night. It will be fascinating to see how he gets on. Nishikori is a top-10 player when fit and on form, but the Japanese has played just two matches in the past year after undergoing elbow surgery. On the basis of their respective first-round performances, I’d have to made Musettti the slight favourite, although it remains to be seen whether he can maintain such a high level.

Its also worth noting the strength of Italian men’s tennis right now. 19-year-old Jannik Sinner – last year’s breakthrough star who brilliantly won the NextGen Finals in Milan – also claimed the biggest win of his career today by beating world number six Stefanos Tsitsipas. And 24-year-old Matteo Berrettini has crept slightly under the radar to become a fixture in the top-10 over the past 12 months. I can’t think of another country that has such an exciting crop of young emerging talent.

Right, I think that’s about all that my brain can handle for now. I’m off for a snooze. Stay safe all and I’ll be back here on Friday.

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