Saturday, July 13, 2024

Underdog books Djokovic showdown with epic victory

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Lorenzo Musetti threw his head back and spread his arms wide to celebrate reaching his first grand slam semi final at Wimbledon, then covered his face with both hands.

His 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Taylor Fritz was a big deal, to be sure. After all, the 25th-seeded Musetti, a 22-year-old from Italy, never had made it past the third round at the All England Club — or past the fourth round at any major tournament — until this fortnight.

Now, though, comes a far tougher test: taking on Novak Djokovic.

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“He probably knows, better than me, the surface and the stadium, for sure,” Musetti said with a chuckle, aware he’ll be making his Centre Court debut on Saturday. “Jokes apart, he’s a legend everywhere, but especially here in Wimbledon.”

This will be Djokovic’s record-tying 13th semi final at Wimbledon alone — equaling Roger Federer — and 49th slam semi final overall, extending a mark he already held. As Musetti pursues his first major championship, Djokovic seeks a 25th, including what would be an eighth at the All England Club.

Lorenzo Musetti of Italy celebrates after defeating Taylor Fritz of the United States.

Lorenzo Musetti of Italy celebrates after defeating Taylor Fritz of the United States. AP

Djokovic’s smooth trip through this year’s bracket was made even easier when the man he was supposed to play in the quarter finals Wednesday, Alex de Minaur, pulled out with a hip injury hours before their match was scheduled to begin.

Musetti was forced to work for his spot in the final four: His three and a half-hour victory over the 13th-seeded Fritz was the 37th five-setter at the All England Club this year, the most at any grand slam tournament.

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Musetti acknowledged he didn’t get off to an ideal start, in part because of nerves. But an early break in the second set helped alter the course of the evening.

“Immediately, I changed my mind. I changed my attitude,” he said. “And that probably made the difference.”

Musetti’s son, Ludovico, was born in March, and he said that helped him rededicate himself to his sport and strive to no longer “throw away matches”.

Taylor Fritz of the United States reacts after falling.

Taylor Fritz of the United States reacts after falling. AP

“Instead of me teaching him, he’s teaching me. … Having a child makes you reflect a lot,” Musetti said. “I feel more mature on the court, more mature off the court, and more mature as a player, as a father, as a person.”

Playing at a sun-swathed No.1 Court against Fritz, an American who is one of the sport’s biggest servers but fell to 0-4 in major quarter finals, Musetti managed to accumulate 13 break points and convert six.

With Queen Camilla, the wife of King Charles III, in the stands and joining fans in doing the wave, Musetti did far more to vary his strokes — a drop shot here, a lob there, plenty of slices — than Fritz did.

“I just felt like it took a lot to finish the point,” Fritz said.

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