Lone Italian Musetti Is Bringing Much Joy To Florence Fans

Lorenzo Musetti (photo: Giampiero Sposito/UniCredit Firenze Open)

FLORENCE/WASHINGTON, October 13, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With the return of the ATP Tour to Florence, Italy for the first time since 1994, there’s been a sense of anticipation that it would be a break-out week for the Italian men who secured seven of the 28 berths in the main draw of the UniCredit Firenze Open. Pre-tournament expectations ran very high. While it didn’t quite work out as envisioned – local hopes were especially dashed when World No. 16 Matteo Berrettini was upset by unheralded Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena on Wednesday – one Italian playing up to his potential as well as his seeding is young, 20-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.

Forza Lorenzo!

The World No. 28 Musetti, a native of Carrara, Tuscany – in the same region of the Southern European country where this week’s ATP 250 indoor hard-court event is taking place – arrived on Campo Centrale as the last Italian standing in the draw. He took on 74th-ranked Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain, who earlier this week eliminated Italian No. 4 Lorenzo Sonego in straight sets. If it seemed that the weight of Italy’s hopes – or, at least, of the few thousand Tuscan fans who crowded into colorful Palazzo Wanny – were resting upon the 20-year-old Musetti’s broad shoulders, they were.

Fortunately, the third-seeded Musettti did not disappoint the home faithful. He rose to the occasion and gave a confident, mature performance by putting together two exceptional sets of tennis that brought much joy to the vocal and supportive home crowd. It all added up to a 6-3, 6-0 second-round victory for Musetti over Zapata Miralles, which improved the Italian’s lifetime win-loss record against tour-level Spanish opposition to 6-1. It also advanced him to his sixth ATP Tour-level quarterfinal of the season.

Behind five aces and 10 winners in the opening set, Musetti won 89 percent of his first-serve points, faced no break points and broke Zapata Miralles in the sixth game of the match, which provided the margin he needed to succeed in the first set.

Then, Musetti built upon what he started and raced to a double-break 4-0 lead in the second set. Soon, he hit a deftly-placed drop shot for his third break of Zapata Miralles to increase his advantage to 5-0 with the match resting comfortably on his racquet. Finally, Musetti closed out the 68-minute victory on his first match point with his ninth service ace that was perfectly placed. He finished with 21 winners to just eight for Zapata Miralles, made only four unforced errors, and won 84 percent of his service points all the while outpointing his opponent 59-30.

During his on-court interview, which was conducted in Italian, Musetti said through an interpreter that he felt really good on the court, his emotions were focused, and he played one of the best matches of his career against a tough player.

Musetti went on to say he feels he is in a very good moment of his career – after recently winning his first ATP Tour-level title in Hamburg – and that he appreciates the tremendous support he is receiving from the Italian fans.

Musetti, who has already qualified for next month’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan for the second straight year, will face unseeded Mackenzie McDonald of the United States in Friday’s quarterfinal round. It marks the third indoor hard-court quarterfinal of the season for the Italian after Rotterdam and Sofia.

Nakashima remains lights out against players outside Top 100

No. 8 seed Brandon Nakashima of the United States, one of three Americans to reach the quarterfinals, has quietly but effectively gone about his business this week in Florence. After beating qualifier Altug Celikbilek of Turkey, 6-3, 6-4, for his 29th win of the season, the victory improved Nakashima’s win-loss record against players outside of the Top 100 to 14-0 in 2022 – and 23-2 lifetime.

The 21-year-old San Diego, Calif. native, ranked eighth in the United States and 46th in the world, recovered from 0-2 down in the final set and quickly turned the second-round match around. Nakashima won five of the next six games to go ahead 5-3. Soon, he closed out the 75-minute victory but not before hitting 11 aces – seven in the final set – while striking 24 winners. He committed just five unforced errors.

Nakashima, who won 78 percent of his first-serve points, hit a running forehand volley winner on his first match point to triumph over Celikbilek. He outpointed his Turkish opponent 59-47 to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals against World No. 13 and top seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who rallied Thursday night to beat Germany’s 55th-ranked Oscar Otte, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-2, in two hours and 29 minutes.

“I thought I served really well today. I thought it was a very high level from [Altug] too,” Nakashima said during his on-court interview. “We were having great rallies from the baseline. I had to dig deep and there were some tough points, but I’m happy I closed it out at the end and played well.”

The loss prevented the 230th-ranked Celikbilek from gaining his first tour-level quarterfinal and it would have been his biggest career win. However, the 26-year-old from Antalya can take solace in having won three matches (two in qualifying and one in the main draw) and six of eight sets this week in Florence. Earlier this season, he won an ATP Challenger Tour title on hard courts in Porto, Portugal.

Meanwhile, Nakashima, who strung together five straight wins last month at the San Diego Open to win his first career ATP Tour-level title, spoke of his desire to keep improving his game.

“My coaches and I have set some goals – short-term and long-term – whether it’s on the court or whether it’s tournaments or rankings,” he explained. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far with those goals. We’re always trying to improve on the court – and taking it one match at a time.”

Auger-Aliassime bounces back to beat Otte

Nakashima’s next opponent, Auger-Aliassime, gained a spot in his 13th tour-level quarterfinal of the season (he is 4-8 in the previous 12). The 22-year-old Canadian, who is appearing in his fourth tour-level event as the No. 1 seed (with a 2-3 record in previous three events as the top-seeded player), hit 13 aces and 42 winners overall against Otte in his first Florence appearance this week. Meanwhile, the lanky German dropped to 0-8 lifetime against Top 20 players on hard courts.

It was a great start,” said Auger-Aliassime, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I played a great first set and until the middle of the second set, and then sometimes that’s how it is in tennis, you get nervous a little bit. Of course, I would have loved to close the match in two sets, but the most important [thing] is that I was able to bounce back, to come back playing some good tennis in the third set.”

Around the Firenze Open

Mackenzie McDonald of the United States played the role of spoiler in his first visit to Florence as he knocked out another Italian favorite, 126th-ranked wild card Francesco Passaro, 6-4, 7-5, to reach his eighth career tour-level quarterfinal and third of 2022.

The 79th-ranked McDonald’s victory improved his win-loss record against players ranked outside of the Top 100 this season to 9-2. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Passaro was seeking the biggest win of his young career – after starting year ranked outside the Top 600 – and a win would have lifted him into the first tour-level quarterfinal of his career.

Instead, McDonald broke Passaro for the fourth time in the match on his third break-point opportunity during the 11th game of the second set. He did it witha backhanded passing-shot winner – his 18th of the match –for a 6-5 lead and a chance to serve out the win in the next game. Quickly, McDonald gained a match point at 40-15 and closed out the one-hour and 35-minute victory after Passaro netted a forehand return. He outpointed the Perugia native 74-63 to become the second American to reach the quarterfinal round along with J.J. Wolf. Soon, Brandon Nakashima would make it a trio of Americans.

“I think I showed up when I needed to,” said McDonald. during his on-court interview. The 27-year-old from Piedmont, Calif., overcame 20 unforced errors by hitting 19 winners. “I think I could have made the match easier than it was. He was competing all over the court and made it more neutral, and definitely the crowd was in his favor. So, I’m happy I got the win.”

Despite the loss, Passaro is No. 9 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Milan standings in hopes of qualifying for next month’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

• Unseeded Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both of France, advanced to the doubles semifinals with a 6-4, 6-1 win over John-Patrick Smith of Australia and Maxime Cressy of the United States. The Frenchmen faced no breaks of serve, broke their opponents four times and outpointed them 53-41 during the 67-minute quarterfinal match.

Later, unseeded Italians Lorenzo Sonego and Andrea Vavassori eliminated No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, the highest-remaining seeded team in the draw, 6-1, 6-4. The winners saved all four break points they faced and broke their opponents three times during the 62-minute match. Sonego and Vavassori outpointed Mektic and Pavic 50-39.

Thursday’s UniCredit Firenze Open results

Friday’s UniCredit Firenze Open order of play

By the numbers

No. 8 seed Brandon Nakashima of the United States is 23-2 versus players ranked outside the Top 100 on tour-level in his career – including 14-0 in 2022.

“Quotable …”

“I tried to be aggressive with the second serve. I tried to go to the net. I tried to be solid. I tried to play a great match, and I think I did.”

– No. 80 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, describing during his on-court interview what the key to his success was in upsetting World No. 16 and second seed Matteo Berrettini, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-5, on Wednesday evening to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.