By Richard Pagliaro
Italian teenagers Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner each played inspired tennis on Rome’s red clay.
The Eternal City embraced two young homegrown talents—disparate stylists who share major upside, says Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier.
In a conference call with the media to promote Tennis Channel’s Roland Garros coverage beginning Sunday, September 27th, at 5 a.m. Eastern time, Courier compared and contrasted the qualites of the 18-year-old Musetti and the 19-year-old Sinner, who has already risen to world No. 81.
Wild card Sinner who plays with calm and balance that may come from his years as a champion junior skier is not as emotionally-expressive as Musetti, but impresses with his poise and professionalism.
Sinner swept Benoit Paire in his Rome opener then out-dueled third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-7, 6-2.
“I love both of those players,” Courier said. “Sinner, I’ve seen a fair bit of. I got to see a lot of Musetti this week—I called a couple of his matches [on Tennis Channel]—and they’re both impressive in different ways.
“Sinner is very polished, very buttoned up, very mature for a 19-year-old. He has a very well-rounded, powerful game. Riccardo Piatti, his coach, has great experience and he’s guiding him wonderfully.”
Wielding a whipping one-handed backhand and a flair for down-the-line theatrics, Musetti made an electrifying Rome debut knocking off three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori in succession. Musetti made history as the first Italian teenager to reach the last 16 in Rome since 19-year-old Diego Nargiso in 1989.
“And then you have Musetti, a very flashy, artistic player with this slashing one-handed backhand that he was able to match against Stan Wawrinka in his win in the first round in Rome,” Courier said. “He’s beautiful to watch—it’s along the lines of kind of a Richard Gasquet, his backhand, as far as pure aesthetics.
“And he seemed to handle the moments pretty well too, for a young guy. He comes from a different path where he’s been working with his coach since he was probably eight or nine years old. So it’s a different path, but really interesting. So they’re gonna be fun to watch.”
Courier knows all about the propulsion effect of a generational push-pull. The two-time Roland Garros champion was part of an elite generation of American Grand Slam champions that featured his friends and rivals Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang as well as major finalists Todd Martin and Mal Washington.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic pronounced the foursome of Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas capable of playing on the same level as the Big 3.
Could we see teenage Italians Musetti and Sinner and rising Canadian stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime establish a future rivalry battling for Grand Slam silverware in years to come?
“You put them in with Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime and you’ve got the makings of some interesting young players coming through,” Courier said.
Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d’Italia Facebook