The artist and the machine: Musetti, Sinner 'future of tennis'

·3-min read

Their styles and personalities may vary considerably, but Italian teenagers Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti are treading similar routes towards the top of men's tennis after both advanced Saturday to the French Open last 16.

Former Next Gen champion Sinner enjoyed a breakout Grand Slam performance with a run to last year's quarter-finals. Eight months later, he is back in the second week at Roland Garros -- this time joined by fellow 19-year-old Musetti, making his main draw debut at a major.

Sinner, seeded 18th, faces a repeat showdown with Rafael Nadal, having held his own against the 13-time champion in a match that finished at 1.30am last October in the autumn chill of a French Open delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The task in the next round awaiting Musetti, some six months younger than Sinner, is no less daunting, with world number one Novak Djokovic standing in his way.

"Me and Jannik, I think we are the future of Italian tennis, and of tennis in general," Musetti said following his five-set win over compatriot Marco Cecchinato.

"He's a bit (more advanced) than me. I'm just living what he was living like last year."

Sinner's maturity is noteworthy for a player of his age, and his powers of resilience were on full display as he saved a match point in his opening-round victory against France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

"When you are one point (from losing), if I had lost that point I would be already at home," said Sinner. "It makes things a little bit different in way. (But) I am still here."

"'Mental boost', it's a big word, but it can give you (that), for sure," he added.

While Sinner's approach has been likened to that of a machine, drawing comparisons with Djokovic, Musetti is viewed as more of an artist, and more temperamental -- more prone to bursts of emotion on court.

- 'Everyone is different' -

"We are made different. We come from, first of all, other parts of Italy," said Sinner. "When I have people around me who are doing one thing, he has people around him who maybe think other things.

"I think the important thing is that everyone is different. He is different than me, I would say. But obviously in a very positive way.

"What he's showing on court, there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, the opposite, he's doing the right things at the right moments."

Musetti, ranked a career high of 76 following semi-final runs at both Acapulco and Lyon this year, announced himself late in 2020 by beating Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka at the Italian Open as a qualifier.

He started this season in Challenger tournaments, but his first-round upset of 13th seed David Goffin -- his sixth win from just nine matches against top-20 players -- was the latest indicator of a player rapidly ascending.

"Lorenzo, I think he's an incredible player. He can do whatever he wants with the ball. He has so many options. He's showing that he can play very, very good tennis," said Sinner.

"Many people are (asking) who is better, me or Lorenzo? I think it's great to see, especially for Italian fans.

"We have two different styles of players, two different personalities on court and off court. I think he's talented, very, very talented, and maybe more than me."

Musetti became only the sixth man since 2000 to make the last 16 at his debut Grand Slam, marking the first time in 15 years two teenagers have reached this stage of the men's tournament.

"Both of us now has big, big opponents," said Sinner. "It's in one way tough, tough to play against them. In the other way, I think it's good that we play against them.

"I think it's in one way a good test. In the other way it's I have played twice already against Rafa. So this time is going to be a little bit different."

mw/dj