There hasn’t been an Italian men’s Grand Slam champion since Adriano Panatta lifted the trophy at Roland Garros in 1976. But after a long wait, the country’s tennis renaissance seems to have finally sparked in earnest as, for the first time in the Open Era, three Italian men are through to the fourth round at a major: ninth seed Matteo Berrettini and #NextGen ATP stars Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti.
With Berrettini already safely into the quarter-finals, 19-year-olds Sinner and Musetti are gearing up for their toughest tests of the fortnight as they prepare to face second seed Rafael Nadal and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, respectively, for the chance to join him.
“Me and Jannik, I think we are the future of Italian tennis, and of the tennis in general,” Musetti declared after his third-round victory over countryman Marco Cecchinato.
Sinner, last year’s breakthrough quarter-finalist (l. Nadal) and Musetti, who is making his Roland Garros debut, have turned heads in Paris en route to the fourth round. Sinner has been his usual calm, cool and big-hitting self as he claimed wins over Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Gianluca Mager and Mikael Ymer. Musetti couldn’t be more different, bringing artistry and drama in equal measures as he navigated past 13th seed David Goffin, Yoshihito Nishioka and Cecchinato.
“Many, many people [are] speaking [about] who is better [between] me and Lorenzo. I think it’s great to see, especially for Italian fans,” Sinner said. “We have two different styles of players, two different personalities on court and off court.”
Sinner, who hails from northern Italy – closer to Austria and Germany than the Mediterranean Sea – leads the ATP Race To Milan for a place in the Next Gen ATP Finals, while Musetti, who grew up in sunny Tuscany, sits in fourth position.
“I’m just living what [Jannik] was living like last year, so we are growing up together,” Musetti reflected. “But I have to focus on myself… I have to improve myself. Of course, I’m really proud and happy that Jannik is still winning and is still going forward in the Slams and is one of the best in the Race.”
Sinner will meet 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal in the second men’s match on Court Philippe-Chatrier. It will be the pair’s second meeting at this event, but a lot has changed for the young Italian since his straight-sets defeat to Nadal at last year’s quarter-finals. Sinner went on to lift two ATP Tour trophies, reach an ATP Masters 1000 final [Miami] and break into the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“He’s young. He’s improving every week. He has big shots. [It’s] going to be a tough one,” Nadal acknowledged after his third-round win over Cameron Norrie. “I need to be solid. I need to be aggressive too, because if not it’s very difficult. I need to make him play from tough positions, and I can’t make a lot of mistakes.
“I know it’s the fourth round, you can’t expect an easy opponent out there. Jannik is not the best fourth round [for me], without a doubt. He’s a dangerous one… We know each other well.”
Nadal will take a 2-0 ATP Head2Head lead into their match-up, after claiming a victory over the Italian earlier this season on his way to the title in Rome (d. Djokovic). The winner will face either 10th seed Diego Schwartzman or Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarter-finals.
World No. 1 Djokovic will get his first look at #NextGenATP Musetti in the Chatrier day session match, but it won’t be the first time the two have shared a court.
After cruising past Ricardas Berankis to reach the fourth round without dropping a set, Djokovic revealed that he and Musetti have been frequent practice partners throughout the season – including at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. The top seed will be very aware of the trouble the No. 79-ranked Musetti can bring.
“I know very much that he is a big challenge to me,” Djokovic said. “So there is no question I have to go out playing on a high level, because he will not have much to lose. I’m sure he’s gonna come out and really try to play the tennis of his life… on the big courts.”
Ninth seed Matteo Berrettini awaits the winner of Djokovic-Musetti. The 25-year-old Italian received a walkover from Roger Federer after the 2009 champion withdrew from the tournament, sending him into the quarter-finals here for the first time.
Tenth seed Schwartzman will face Struff in the second match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen for a shot at the winner of Nadal-Sinner. The Argentine, who reached the semi-finals here last year (l. Nadal), has flown under the radar and advanced to the fourth round without dropping a set or facing a tie-break.
After lifting the trophy on home soil in Buenos Aires in March, Schwartzman has struggled to gain momentum as the clay swing turned to Europe. But he snapped a three-match losing streak in style in Paris, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Finishing [the clay-court season] in Roland Garros, I was thinking, ‘Okay, this place, it’s a great place for me,’” Schwartzman said. “I did great things here in the past, and I have to play good tennis. Let’s see what happens. If it’s not a good week, I can go back [home] just for a few days.”
Schwartzman and Struff are level at 1-1 in their ATP Head2Head record, with the Argentine claiming victory in their lone clay-court meeting at Monte-Carlo in 2017. The German equalled his best Grand Slam result by reaching the fourth round with victories over seventh seed Andrey Rublev and #NextGenATP Carlos Alcaraz along the way.