Roland Garros is the home of French tennis, but so far this year the men’s event has had a distinctly Italian flavor. At the same time that France’s aging Musketeers were fizzling out early, three fresh faces from Italy, Jannik Sinner, Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti, were making their way into the second week. Tennis fans know these names well, of course, but the rest of the world will know them better after Monday. That’s when Sinner will play Rafael Nadal, and Lorenzo Musetti will take on Novak Djokovic. Berrettini was scheduled to face Roger Federer in the same round, but he’ll move into the quarterfinals now that Federer has withdrawn from the tournament.
“There have been rumblings about them for a while,” says Craig O’Shannessy, a strategy coach who consults for Italy’s tennis federation. “But this will put them in a bigger spotlight, the young guys especially.”
Why Italy? Why now? This is a nation that has never had a top-ranked ATP player, and has produced just one men’s Grand Slam champion in the Open era, Adriano Panatta, whose title run at Roland Garros happened in 1976. As of this week, though, Italy has 10 men in the Top 100, including Lorenzo Sonego, another player whose star has been on the rise over the last year or so. Berrettini is already in the Top 10; most expect Sinner to join him there soon; Musetti has reached the round of 16 in his first appearance in a Grand Slam main draw.
We’ve seen these national eruptions many times in the past: from Steffi Graf and Boris Becker in Germany; Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin in Belgium; Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic in Serbia; and Bianca Andreescu, Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Canada. Usually it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason for these surges, and on one level that’s true of Italy’s as well.
Each of these young players grew up in a different place, worked with a different coach, and plays a different type of game. Sinner is from South Tyrol, on the Austrian border; Musetti is from Carrara; Berrettini from Rome, and Sonego from Turin. While Musetti and Sonego compete with the charismatic expressiveness that we typically associate with Italian players, the 6’5” Berrettini has a gentle giant’s demeanor, and Sinner plays with an icy calm (South Tyrol is known for luge).