Italian teenager continues dream run in Rome

Lorenzo Musetti celebrates after defeating his opponent in Rome on Sept 17. (AP pic)

ROME: Teenager Lorenzo Musetti brandished his reputation as a next-generation star by taking down Japan’s Kei Nishikori in straight sets at the Italian Open on Thursday for back-to-back wins against former top-five players.

The 18-year-old Italian also defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, a former world No 3, in two sets on Tuesday in only his second Tour level match.

Musetti proved it was no flash in the pan when he comfortably defeated former world No 4 and 2014 US Open finalist Nishikori 6-3, 6-4 to move into the last 16 of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome.

“I always used to be a warrior, a fighter, but I had a lot of ups and downs during the past year,” said Musetti, who won the Australian Open in 2019 as a junior before turning professional the same year.

Musetti, ranked 249, needed a wildcard to compete in the Italian Open qualifiers and will next meet German Dominik Koepfer, who beat Frenchman Gael Monfils, for a possible quarterfinal meeting against world No 1 Novak Djokovic.

“This month I tried to keep calm and stay positive on court, and I think it’s my best improvement in the past few weeks. Here in Rome, I’m feeling really well,” Musetti told reporters.

“Even today, I think I won mentally because I played well on the tough points. I think the key was this, the important points. Kei is a fantastic player.

“I tried to take my chances tonight. I am really proud of myself, of what I did.”

Japan’s Nishikori returned to the circuit this month after sitting out for a year due to injury and felt he needed more matches under his belt to return to his best.

The two-time French Open quarterfinalist, however, had words of praise for his young opponent.

“He’s a good player, I think, especially on clay,” said Nishikori.

“I don’t know how he’s going to play on hard (courts), but for sure he’s going to have a lot of power on clay, good backhand too, good serve.

“He can come in well. He can do pretty much everything. That’s, I think, a big weapon for him.”