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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 7, 2021

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic rallied from two sets down for the fifth time tearing through 16 of the last 17 games topping Lorenzo Musetti to reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the 15th time.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Crashing to the court at the start of the fifth set, a bloodied Novak Djokovic climbed off the clay canvas to continue the fight.

Neither jarring knockdown nor mesmerizing strikes from Lorenzo Musetti could keep the top seed down on this day.

More: Gauff Charges Into First Grand Slam Quarterfinal

Unleashing crackling combinations, a defiant Djokovic roared back from a two-set deficit tearing through 16 of the final 17 games to subdue a pained and valiant Musetti, who retired due to cramping and a back issue with the world No. 1 leading 6-7(7), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.

A gritty victory vaults Djokovic into his 15th Roland Garros quarterfinal.

It was Djokovic's fifth career comeback from a two-set deficit and showed his red clay resilience while playing with poise with little margin for error today.

"I actually felt, I would say, more nervous when I was starting the match than when I was two sets down," Djokovic saaid. "To be honest, I even liked the fact that I lost first couple of sets, because I just, I don't know, I just played under certain kind of tension and wasn't able to go through my shots, too many unforced errors and just not playing and not feeling great in the first couple of sets.

"But credit to him for playing well in important moments. After I lost the second set and went out to change and came back on the court, I just felt different. I was a different player. I have had better feeling in my shots. I had just more confidence going through the ball. I decreased the amount of errors. Started playing the way I was supposed to play at the beginning."

The top-seeded Serbian scored his eighth straight clay-court win advancing to his 49th Grand Slam quarterfinal in his 64th major appearance—second only to Roger Federer (57) for most men's Grand Slam quarterfinals in the Open Era.

An imaginative Musetti mixed the depth, angles and spinf of his backhand and cracked his forehand with vigor showing the skills that have rocketed him up the rankings to a new career-high of No. 61 in the live rankings.

"I mean, for me was a fantastic experience. I was playing, I think, my best tennis, for sure," Musetti said. "I have never played like today. The first two sets were really long, like, two hours and, I don't know, 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, like, the first two sets. I mean, he started play really good, and then I had some problems with my physical part. Yeah, I think I have to work there."

For two sets, Musetti conjured shot-making magic bamboozling the world No. 1 with drop shots and freezing him with some brilliant strikes particularly off his wondrous one-handed backhand. Then the 19-year-old hit a physical wall appearing slow by both his aches and pains and Djokovic' increasingly immaculate drives.

"It's not an injury. It's, well, just a little bit of cramps and a little bit of low back pain," Musetti said. "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."

Staring down a two-set deficit, Djokovic left the court for a bathroom break and returned delivering dominance as Grand Slam debutant Musetti, who fought off compatriot Marco Cecchinato in a five-set, third-round win, felt the drain of his second career five-setter and appeared pained and powerless to halt the Australian Open champion's rampage.

It was Djokovic's 11th straight Grand Slam match win and propels him into a quarterfinal clash with another talented Italian Matteo Berrettini, who figures to be far fresher than Musetti. The ninth-seeded Berrettini took a walkover into his first French Open quarterfinal following scheduled opponent Roger Federer's withdrawal yesterday.

"A big serve, big forehand. Two big weapons. He's in form," Djokovic said of Berrettini. "He just has so much firepower in his game... He's very aggressive. You know, with his big serve he's got a lot of, let's say, easier balls in the middle of the court that he can penetrate through the forehand or he can drop shot. He's very good at the net.

"He's a Top 10 player for last couple of years. And right now quarterfinals of a slam, you know, you need to be at your best in order to have a chance to win."

Though this was the first pro meeting between Djokovic and Musetti, the pair have practiced together, which not only diminished the intimidation factor the 19-year-old Italian may have felt under normal circumstances, it also gave him insight into Djokovic's preferred patterns of play.

Creative court sense and superior racquet skills are Musetti assets. The Italian teenager already pulled off the shot of the tournament with a behind the back volley winner in his five-set win over compatriot Cecchinato.

Serving at 5-6 today, Musetti was off the doubles alley when he lasered a stunning backhand winner down the line and followed that shot with a full stretch forehand dropper while on the move. That shot sequence left he world No. 1 smiling and nodding at the audacious execution.

Musetti carried an 8-0 career tie break record into the opening-set breaker, but Djokovic was thumping shots going up 4-1 in the breaker before his opponent flipped the script. Musetti drilled two dagger backhands down the line closing than drew a Djokovic error to even it after eight points.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion tried to beat Musetti at his own game carving out a drop shot but the teenager caught up to it easily and shoveled his reply down the line for 5-all. When Djokovic crashed the net with a forehand—his 19th unforced error of the set—Musetti had set point at 6-5. A gutsy Djokovic cleaned the edge of the sideline with a crosscourt forehand to save set point.

A 20th unforced error from the Serbian gave the teenager a second set point. Djokovic showed steely spine running Musetti side-to-side then flicking a forehand dropper to save it.

Luring the world No. 1 forward with a dropper, Musetti read Djokovic's reply and swept a forehand winner for a third set point.

This time, Musetti stepped in and drilled a diagonal forehand winner to seize a one-set lead after 73 minutes. Showing no fear in his maiden major, Musetti's exquisite backhand variation and exceptional poise under tiebreaker pressure had him waving his hands exhorting fans to make more noise after the opening set.

Continuing to apply his one-hander, Musetti drew first blood in the second set breaking for 3-1 only to follow with his sloppiest game of the match as Djokovic broke right back in the fifth game.

Tennis Express

Threading the needle with a backhand down the line, Musetti crushed a forehand winner for break point in the sixth game. Djokovic drilled a slice serve to save it and the set eventually escalated into another breaker.

Down 0-2 in the second-set tie breaker the top seed brain-cramped. Djokovic soared high for a smash, but Musetti reflexed it back. Djokovic thought the shot would sail, but it landed inside the line giving the Italian a 3-0 lead.

Increasing his ball-bouncing before each serve, Djokovic was looking tighter as he missed the mark with a drive and Musetti extended his lead to 5-1.

The poise and patience the teenager showed through two sets was commendable. On his second set point, Musetti slid a wide serve snatching a two-set lead after two hours, 18 minutes of play, and remarkably raising his ATP career tie breaker record to a sparkling 10-0.

Leaving the court for a bathroom break, Djokovic returned refreshed aiming to pull off the biggest climb of his Grand Slam season and fight back from a two-set deficit for the fifth time

It didn't take Djokovic too long to stamp his authority on the set.

Djokovic won six straight points to start the third set then ran down a drop shot for break point. Playing more assertive tennis, Djokovic burst out to a 3-0 lead.

The 2016 champion powered out to a 5-1 lead and closed with command to force a fourth set.

Dialing up his returns, Djokovic drilled a backhand return right back at Musetti rattling out the error to earn the opening break of the fourth set.

Playing with calm aggression, a free-flowing Djokovic steamrolled through four straight love games threatening to impose the first men's Tour-level golden set since the late, great Bill Scanlon did it playing with a wood racquet at the 1983 Delray Beach tournament.

In complete command, Djokovic spun his 10th ace out wide wrapping a dominating fourth set to force a decider after three hours, three minutes. Djokovic delivered a near golden set winning 24 of 29 points and firing 10 winners to none for a shell-shocked and pained Musetti, who managed just 14 points in the third and fourth sets.

Crashing to the court on the opening point of the final set, Djokovic showed his resourcefulness flicking back a forehand while down on the dirt.

Even when knocked off his feet, nothing could keep Djokovic down on this day. That improvisational magic left the Sebian bleeding from a cut to his right index finger, but Musetti couldn't stop his own hemorrhaging as Djokovic broke to start the final set.

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By then, Djokovic had raced through 33 of the last 39 points going up a break in the decider and a depleted Musetti looked out on his feet.

As if flicking an internal switch of intensity, Djokovic was beating Musetti with the type of drop shots the Italian stylist deployed to torment the top seed through the first two sets. Djokovic smacked his 11th ace to back up the break for 2-0.

Djokovic rolled through 16 of 20 points in the final set before Musetti slowly trudged to net pulling the plug on a fantastic Paris run by retiring. While Musetti has a phenomenal future ahead of him, Djokovic is committed to continue his current inspired run.

Continuing his quest for a 19th Grand Slam crown to close the gap on 20-time major winners Rafael Nadal and Federer, Djokovic dropped sets for the first time in this French Open fortnight but emerged looking strengthened by the struggle as he gears up for another dangerous Italian before a possible semifinal rematch vs. reigning Roland Garros champion Nadal.


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