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WATCH: Stefanos Tsitsipas completes a comeback from two sets down against Lorenzo Musetti

For all the quantitative analysis that has surfaced in tennis in recent years, there remains an opportunity to inspect the significance of specific moments and the role of the score in determining the ebb and flow of a tennis match. As Hall of Famer Pancho Segura loved to say, “You’ve got to know and play to the score. It can tell you everything.”

Two roughly similar telling points came this evening at Roland Garros, in a lively five-setter between fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas and 66th-ranked Lorenzo Musetti.

In the first set, Musetti served at 1-4, 30-40. Opening the court with a fine kick serve to Tsitsipas’ backhand, Musetti took advantage of a short return to strike a crackling crosscourt forehand winner. From there, Musetti went on to win the game and the set.

In the fifth set, Musetti served at 1-3, 30-40. Here again, the kick serve, this time followed up by an imaginative foray to the net and a carved down-the-line backhand volley that landed in the vicinity of the service line. But while Tsitsipas had been frustrated by the Musetti kick serve and follow-up sequence earlier in the match, on this occasion he dashed to the ball just quickly enough to float up a forehand lob. Musetti netted the overhead.

Having earned a second service break, Tsitsipas went on to run out the match, 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. For the third time in his career, Tsitsipas had rallied from two sets to love down to win. Having committed 16 forehand unforced errors in the first two sets, Tsitsipas in the last three made just seven.

“You never really think about getting back after being two sets to love,” said Tsitsipas. “You just play it point after point. You just wish that your efforts will pay off on a longer scale, longer run. You know, being in that situation is like, it's a mountain that you have to climb, and I was able to climb it and regain the momentum steadily but consistently.”

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For the second year running, Musetti failed to make a two-set lead stand up.

For the second year running, Musetti failed to make a two-set lead stand up.

Following that missed overhead, Musetti cast his eyes upward, likely vexed by the lights. But as he reflects on this match, Musetti might well also look down, to the legs and the fitness that for the second year in a row had diminished his chances of earning a massive upset on Court Philippe-Chatrier. In 2021, Musetti won the first two sets versus Novak Djokovic, eventually retiring from the match once down 4-0 in the fifth. Tsitsipas last year had a similar experience, in the finals taking the first two sets versus Djokovic before losing, 6-4 in the fifth.

Shared anguish versus Djokovic was but one commonality that made this match intriguing. Each also has a one-handed backhand and is therefore inherently committed to the brand of shot-making sequences that stroke demands in contemporary tennis. One expected to see many a lively rally. For the first two sets, they came with blizzard-like frequency, most often off the racquet of the spirited 20-year-old Italian.

Serving at 3-4 in the first set, Musetti won a seven-deuce game that lasted nearly 12 minutes. Musetti’s not-so-secret weapon was his kick serve to the ad court, a delivery Tsitsipas returned ineffectually. Three games later, Tsitsipas serving at 5-5, 30-all, Musetti hit a 96-m.p.h. forehand down-the-line winner on the run. He won the next point and then served out the set at 15. Dazed by it all, Tsitsipas went down 4-0 in the second. From 1-4 down in the first set, Musetti had won 10 of 11 games.

“He's fighting,” said Tsitsipas. “He's a talented player that has a very nice one-handed backhand. He knows the game on clay. He has grown up playing in these courts. He's definitely a difficult opponent to face in any circumstance really.”

And yet, as much as the score line had Musetti well in the lead, this was where a major Tsitsipas asset kicked in. His technical skills have long been vivid. But more recently, Tsitsipas’ maturity has come under suspicion, ranging from occasional ungracious comments after losses to the use of bathroom breaks to his father’s penchant for illegal coaching (though he’s hardly the only coach to do this). But make no mistake, as this match proved, don’t let Tsitsipas’ artistry fool you: He is an extremely hard worker and also armed with his own brand of tenacity.

“I have to really work to get things in life,” said Tsitsipas. “Things don't come easy. I refuse to give up. That's simply how it works with me.”

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A winner in Monte Carlo and a Roland Garros runner-up last year, Tsitsipas recovered in time to avoid a massive upset.

A winner in Monte Carlo and a Roland Garros runner-up last year, Tsitsipas recovered in time to avoid a massive upset.

The third set commenced in obvious fashion, Tsitsipas winning 12 of the first 13 points and from there, easily sending it into a fourth. The fourth started similarly, Tsitsipas going up 3-0. But Musetti broke and soon served at 2-3, in the course of that game holding two points to even the set. By this stage, though, Musetti’s energy was clearly sagging. On one of those game points, Musetti netted the kind of down-the-line backhand he’d easily snapped off earlier in the match. On the other, Tsitsipas generated superior length to elicit an error. That window closed, Musetti from this point was a shadow of the man who’d begun the match with such sparkle.

Meanwhile, Tsitsipas was buoyant as the fifth set began. Nowhere was his leg strength more apparent at that stage than in the serve department. In the fifth set, Tsitsipas made 17 of 19 first serves, losing only two of those points.

“Well, once I started finding my serve, my serve was really off from the first—maybe not the first few games of the match, but after, it completely collapsed,” said Tsitsipas. “It wasn't there. That threw me off a lot. Once I really found my momentum on the serve, my routines and everything, I knew that it can be a different match. You know, I felt like I was serving better than him, creating more opportunities with my serve, pressing more.”

Tsitsipas refused to give up, and his shotmaking answered in kind.

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