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Lorenzo Musetti has lost his way

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Lorenzo Musetti has lost his way

The class of 2002 is going through a difficult time.

After an external serve from the left, Musetti tries the counterattack with a forehand down the line which however comes out short. Zhang responds with a sharp backhand that passes just above the tape. A shot that is easily attackable from the baseline and more difficult to manage if you are at the net, but Musetti is not in either area.

In fact, after the first attack he remained still, and then headed towards the net late. The result is that he finds himself in mid-court, in no man’s land, trying to tee up Zhang’s shot with a very complicated demi-volée. This obviously fails; the ball rears up and slams awkwardly into his face. At that moment he was down 6-2 5-0 in the first round of the ATP 250 in Doha.

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Musetti’s clumsy half-volley against Zhang

A few numbers

The defeat against Zhang is the sixth defeat in just 10 games in 2024. A negative trend that dates back to last season and which worsened seriously in the final months of the year. Perhaps the most chilling and representative statistic of Musetti’s dark period is that relating to the continuity of performance. In fact, the 2002 class has not won two consecutive matches since the ATP 250 in Chengduin September 2023. In that tournament he beat Sekulic in three sets and Rinderknech in two, losing in the semifinals to the Russian Roman Safiullin.

To be honest, the start of the 2023 season had been positive, especially in the clay-court bracket. In Monte Carlo he reached the quarter-finals with a feat against Djokovicwhile the following week in Barcelona he reached the semi-finals, only to lose in the third set against a still inspired Stefanos Tsitsipas.

His name has never been synonymous with consistency, but from the US Open onwards the defeats have become increasingly frequent and absurd. Considering the last year and the beginning of the current season, Musetti has played 47 matches against players lower than him in the rankings, winning only 27 times, for a worrying percentage of 57 percent. A fact that tells us how there are no easy games for him today. Another disturbing statistic confirms all this: last season Musetti lost eight games (out of 24 total) against players outside the Top 100.

A performance that took him from 15th position to 25th, and which abruptly reduced all the expectations we had of him. Will Musetti ever be a Top 10 player? Will he be able to make the definitive leap in quality? Questions to which, as time passes, we are increasingly inclined to answer negatively.

A head problem

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Beyond some purely tactical ideas that we will see later, Musetti’s biggest flaw seems to be psychological imbalance within the games. It takes very little to make him lose his mind, and if it doesn’t work the rest of the body also stops responding. Musetti completely leaves the field without returning, ending up giving matches to opponents who are not up to him.

While he plays his internal conflict is perfectly visible; Musetti speaks to himself, swears, repeats the movements of the forehand and backhand, spreads his arms. Body language that hurts his performance and gives hope to the opponent, motivated by seeing a tormented player on the other side of the net. And perhaps this is also one of the reasons behind the poor performance against inferior tennis players on paper. Anyone who plays against Musetti knows that he will always have a chance to win.

Perhaps the most striking example is the second round match against the Frenchman Van Assche all’Australian Open. In that match Musetti gets off to a bad start, losing the first set with a clear 6-3. In the second his serve works again and, also thanks to a decline from his opponent, he manages to overcome the deficit to 2-1. In the second half of the fourth game the key moment, the one where the switch turns off permanently. After a few points won with the help of the tape, Van Assche takes the chair at the expense of Musetti angry and grounded. From 3-3 in the fourth set, the blue lost 10 games in a row, ending up losing the last two sets (and the match) with a score of 6-3 6-0.

Some of you will think that Musetti only goes into a rage in official matches because he is a victim of the tension of the moment, and that would be an impeccable reasoning. The problem, however, is more serious: his anger is also manifested in friendly matchestraining, where the outcome counts but the sensations on the pitch are more important.

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On the backstage_tennis Instagram page you can find a very interesting series of videos of the session training between Musetti and Cameron Norrie, complete with microphones to hear the dialogues of its staff members. Here too, after a dubious ball called by Norrie himself, Musetti loses concentration and re-enacts the usual script to which we are now accustomed. “He stopped playing” says former no.7 Corrado Barazzutti, who recently joined the team precisely to help Musetti make the leap in quality.

In that sentence Shit, but do you want to become a player? Musetti is all there: the potential to reach the top but also the mediocrity to which he himself stoops. Barazzutti as the father of a son who is good but doesn’t apply himself, or rather, fails to apply himself. The important thing is that you react, don’t let the weak part inside you take you away and then, turning to a collaborator: “This he must learn, this“.

Insecurity

Musetti’s self-destructive attitude, in addition to being a character component, is son of insecurity. In fact, it is no coincidence that the increase in frequency coincided with the season of the potential leap in quality. His ranking grew and with it the expectations on him and the quality of his opponents.

Furthermore, contrary to what we are led to think, the lack of certainty also lies in his game itself. In the latest releases it has become clear how Musetti doesn’t really have anything to hold on to in times of difficulty. His fluctuating performance on serve puts him in situations of constant pressure, and his one-handed backhand, although aesthetically valuable, puts him at a disadvantage in longer and more intense rallies. In the defeat against Zhang, Musetti was unable to find consistency with his backhand, with which he committed many different errors; sometimes mesh-like, other times width-wise or length-wise.

The other problem is of a more tactical nature. Musetti it seems don’t have clear ideas on how to best exploit the many weapons at his disposal. This lack of concreteness unites him in some ways with Dennis Shapovalov, a tennis player with a rich technical background who until now has never managed to establish himself among the best. A year ago Musetti’s coach, Simone Tartarini, spoke precisely about this parallel with the Canadian: The comparison is there and that’s exactly what I would like to avoid happening“. At the moment, however, the parables of the two are frighteningly similar.

Returning to the field, especially in the decisive points, Musetti tends to stay well behind the baseline to look for the dribble, ultimately suffering the greater heaviness of the ball from his opponents. The exchange below against Zhang is an example: Musetti manages to get his feet in the court after a well-placed serve, but is immediately thrown back. The blue plays with his feet on the “Qatar” writing and induces Zhang to play a short ball which inevitably proves fatal. A tactical structure that partly motivates his excellent results on clay, but also on faster surfaces should become more proactiveespecially because he certainly has the means for a vertical game.

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Musetti’s wait-and-see position

The search for maturity

The start of the clay season could represent a turning point, to rediscover the feeling of victory and confidence in his abilities on a surface that has always smiled on him. The inclusion in the team of a figure like Barazzutti it means that the need to change has been perceived, without necessarily having to separate from the historic coach Simone Tartarini. The important thing was to realize the difficulties, as Sinner did by interrupting the collaboration with Riccardo Piatti.

We must not forget that Musetti will turn 22 in about two weeks. Time is certainly on his side, and despite his young age he has already won two ATP titles including the 500 in Hamburg and the Davis Cup with Italy, even without a major contribution. His precocity records tell us that his talent is of the highest quality, but has yet to reach maturity human and professional necessary to take the next step; go from boy to manas he stated in one recent interview. Jannik Sinner’s quantum leap in the last period must not mislead us: it will be a long journey, which is starting now and we won’t know when it will end.

2024 will be a fantastic year for him regardless of the results. Soon indeed he will become a father for the first time, and it is obvious and right that his energies flow in that direction. In conclusion he said it himself in Adelaide after the victory against Thompson: “I want to get back to the Top 20, where I was all last year, but the biggest goal is to be a good dad“.

We may not see immediate results, but Musetti’s quest for maturity has only just begun. And who knows whether an expansion of the family, which for many represents the entry into adulthood, could definitively convince him to become that player we are all waiting for.

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