Musetti Shows He Belongs Among Masters In Paris This Week

Lorenzo Musetti (photo: ATP Tour video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

In a season of firsts for Lorenzo Musetti – including winning his first ATP Tour title – the young Italian achieved a double milestone at the Rolex Paris Masters on Thursday. Not only did he garner his first Top-5 triumph after coming from behind to beat World No. 4 and third seed Casper Ruud, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, the 23rd-ranked Musetti is also through to his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

After beginning the week with victories against No. 15 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia and Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, Musetti beat Ruud with focus, confidence and power – coupled with some talent and luck, too – during his two-hour, 19-minute tussle with the Norwegian on Court Central that started third-round play in Accor Arena.

Musetti hit 38 winners and converted three of seven break points. He outpointed Ruud 89-80 for his first win against a Top-5 opponent in six tries – and it’s the first the 20-year-old Italian has gone this deep in an ATP Masters 1000 event. Musetti has made a remarkable improvement over his second-round finish in Paris a year ago.

“I am really happy,” Mussetti said in a post-match interview after recording his 33rd win of the season. “I think we played a great match until the end. A lot of remarkable shots from his side. He was playing really well and I had to play my best tennis to beat him. I am really happy that all the hard work I am doing keeps improving me. I am really proud of this win.”

Later, in his press conference, Musetti added: “It was a really nice match. I started a bit with a rush, but Casper was playing good. He played good all the match, so it was definitely one of my biggest wins in my career. I’m really proud of myself today.”

Everything seems to be pointing in the right direction for the charismatic, 20-year-old Italian from Carrara in the Tuscany region of Italy. He’s is currently at a career-high ranking and last month won his second ATP Tour-level title at Naples to go along with his earlier title at Hamburg on clay. Regardless of how his week in Paris turns out, Musetti will finish his 2022 season at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan next week, where he will be the top-seeded competitor in the annual 21-and-under event.

On Friday, Musetti will face defending champion Novak Djokovic. The six-time Paris titlist and 38-time Masters 1000 champion eased past Russia’s Karen Khachanov, the only man to defeat him in a Rolex Paris Masters final, 6-4, 6-1, in an hour and 27 minutes for his 11th straight overall win. Since losing to Khachanov in the 2018 title match, the World No. 7 from Serbia has won 18 tour-level titles, including seven Grand Slams and six ATP Masters 1000s. As for the World No. 19 Khachanov, he has yet to win another championship.

Djokovic hit 18 winners, converted four break points and outpointed Khachanov 65-40. He has now won his last 11 consecutive matches in Paris.

Djokovic spoke in praising tones about Musetti during his post-match press conference. He said: “Without a doubt, he has improved generally, but particularly on hard courts. I mean, we know that clay is his preferred surface, but I think, you know, maybe that has changed, because his first title came on hard court outdoors in Napoli a few weeks ago. This week he has beaten some really high quality, top-ranked players.

“He’s got a bright future ahead of him. Things are coming together. It takes a few years for a young player to be on the tour to understand, you know, how the tour functions and understand what it takes to find that balance where you are able to consistently play well.”

With top ranking assured at Turin, Alcaraz keeps winning in Paris

With World No. 2 Rafael Nadal’s upset loss to Tommy Paul Wednesday night, it means that Carlos Alcaraz is assured of being the World No. 1 entering the Nitto ATP Finals later this month. The 19-year-old Spaniard will clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking on Sunday if he wins his third ATP Masters 1000 title of his career and of the season after earlier triumphs in Miami and Madrid.

On a rainy Thursday in the French capital city, it was first things first for Alcaraz, who met Grigor Dimitrov for the first time with a quarterfinal berth at stake and won easily after taking nine of the first 10 games. His 6-1, 6-3 victory on Court Central lasted just 71 minutes, but the steady and consistent Alcaraz put together another strong performance for his 57th win of the season. He hit 15 winners, converted five of seven break points and outpointed the 28th-ranked Bulgarian 62-44 to reach his first Paris quarterfinal. Dimitrov dropped to 1-12 lifetime against World No. 1 opponents.

“I started playing pretty well,” Alcaraz said in his post-match interview. “[Grigor’s] level is very much not the level you saw today, but I played very well. At the end of the second set, it was tougher for me, he came back, he raised the level and obviously it was tough. He had the chance to go up in the second set. I had to stay calm in that moment and show my best to not allow him to go up.”

Later, in his press conference, Alcaraz was asked to describe his mindset as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

“I just feel I can lose every match, and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “You have to play your best match in every match or at least you have to try to play the best level in every match. That’s what I see in that moment right now.”

Next, Alcaraz will play 19-year-old Danish rising star Holger Rune, who is already set to play in the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals next week. The 18th-ranked Rune defeated World No. 9 and seventh seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 29 minutes behind a solid attack that included 28 winners and two breaks of Rublev’s serve. Rune saved all six break points he faced and outpointed his opponent 72-63. A day earlier, Rublev qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals later this month in Turin.

Friday’s Alcaraz-Rune matchup will be the first between teenagers in a Rolex Paris Masters quarterfinal, semifinal or final. It’s also be the first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, semifinal or final between teens since then-19-year-olds Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met in the 2007 Miami semifinals.

France loves Simon, win or lose

Sentimental French favorite Gilles Simon hoped to extend his career one more time when he faced the hottest player in men’s tennis, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in Thursday’s featured afternoon match at Accor Arena. While the 37-year-old Simon may be a 188th-ranked wild card, the former World No. 6 has been turning back the clock with back-to-back surprising wins over former World No. 1 Andy Murray and current World No. 11 Taylor Fritz, which gave him 504 for his remarkable career. He’s been enjoying a renaissance week in Paris and the fans have been behind Simon all the way.

Simon, who is retiring after this tournament, had already equaled his run to the third round at his 17th and final Roland Garros in May. Against the 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime, the winner of three straight ATP Tour tournaments in Florence, Antwerp and Basel, Simon met his match but not for a lack of trying. He simply ran out of steam. The Canadian No. 1, who is ranked No. 8, ended Simon’s dream week, 6-1, 6-3, in an hour and 32 minutes. Auger-Aliassime hit 11 aces and 28 winners while outpointing the Frenchman 63-45. It was his 15th straight victory.

Afterward, Simon was honored with an on-court retirement ceremony, in which fellow French players Lucas Pouille and Nicolas Mahut were on-hand to fete him and there were pre-recorded messages sent by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Rafael Nadal that were aired on big video screens. Simon said good bye in style – congratulating Auger-Aliassime, giving thanks to the French Tennis Federation, praising his wife Carine Lauret, and showing his love for the fans who filled Accor Arena crowd for his matches. Speaking in French (translated into English), he said:

“Felix, you are the best of all, a great person and I hope the crowd will support him. I’m happy to finish against you and I wish you the best for the future. …

“I also want to thank the [French Tennis] Federation. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play one last time here because I didn’t have the ranking. You gave me my chance and I managed to take it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, it was really important for me. …

“Thank you to the crowd for supporting me throughout the match, from the beginning. The purpose of being able to play one last French Open, one last Bercy, was to enjoy you one last time with great emotions and to play great matches. I had great emotions and it’s thanks to you, a huge thank you, I play tennis also for that. …

“My wife is hiding in the stands. She should have been on court.  Thank you for everything. I know how difficult this was for you. … I am so happy to tell you that it’s over now. I will be there. I thank you for letting me live my passion for so long.”

In the quarterfinal round, Auger-Aliassime will play No. 16 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who won a spirited 6-3, 7-6 (5) battle over No. 25 Alex de Minaur of Australia. Tiafoe fired 14 aces, struck 34 winners and outpointed his opponent 74-65.

Around the Accor Arena

• World No. 5 and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece captured his 59th win of the season – which leads leads the ATP Tour – after defeating 64th-ranked French qualifier Corentin Moutet, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in one hour and 38 minutes during the Thursday night session. Tsitsipas hit 21 winners to 14 unforced errors and outpointed Moutet 69-56.

Moutet was appearing in the third round of an ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time after equaling the biggest win of his career against World No. 13 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), which officially ended at 3:03 a.m. Thursday morning.

Next, Tsitsipas will face 31st-ranked American Tommy Paul, who eliminated World No. 14 and 14th seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, 6-4, 6-4, in 79 minutes. Paul hit 24 winners, made only seven unforced errors and outpointed Carreño Busta 69-52.

It was Paul’s ninth straight win over Spaniard competition – and third this week – and it advanced him to his second career Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

• No. 2 doubles seeds Wesley Kookhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain are through to the quarterfinal round after defeating Rafael Matos of Brazil and David Vega Hernandez of Spain, 5-7, 6-3, 10-6. Three other seeded teams reached the last eight on Thursday. On Wednesday, top seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain advanced with a 7-5, 6-7 (4), 11-9 victory over French wild cards Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul.

Thursday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Friday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“It’s probably my best win. I was obviously pumped for the matchup because it’s always interesting when you play one of the Big Three. I’ve only played him the second time, but the first time I was so nervous. It was weird, this time I wasn’t really nervous. I was pretty relaxed going onto the court and the day before. I think that played a role. I came out pretty well. He got the first set, but I feel like I played well from the jump.”

Tommy Paul of the United States, commenting post-match on his victory over World No. Rafael Nadal which denied the Spaniard’s bid for No. 1 in Paris.