Lorenzo Musetti beats Taylor Fritz, faces Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England — There’s a sound that’s been heard a lot at Wimbledon this year, en vogue amid the hushed murmurs and encouraging cries of “Come on!” and polite applause and sometimes even raucous applause. It resurfaced at the start of the fortnight, made it all the way to Day 10 and will linger for at least two more days. The sound is far from unfamiliar at the All England Club, but it hasn’t been heard so often, so long, in a while.

That would be the sound of an Italian battle cry: “Forza!”

Court No. 1 has become accustomed to the many “Forza!” cries hurled from the stands at this tournament, as was the case on Wednesday when 25th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti surprised 13th-seeded Taylor Fritz with a 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory in the quarterfinals. He thus becomes only the fourth Italian to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon, after Nicola Pietrangeli in 1960, Matteo Berrettini in 2021 and current No. 1 Jannik Sinner last year.

He follows those men and, more recently, his compatriot Jasmine Paolini, the seventh seed here, who defeated American Emma Navarro in three sets on Tuesday to become the first Italian woman to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals.

Together, Musetti and Paolini ensured that this Wimbledon is only the second time that an Italian man and woman have reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, the first time being when Paolini and Sinner did so last month at Roland Garros.

Paolini advanced to Donna Vekic, who will play her first Grand Slam semifinal on Thursday in her 43rd major appearance. Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina will face Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova in the other women’s semifinal on Thursday after winning the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Musetti’s prize after his triumph — which took place in front of Queen Camilla, who walked out of the Royal Box on Centre Court and at one point joined in the wave during the match — is an encounter with tennis royalty. Novak Djokovic earned a walkover in the other men’s quarterfinal on Wednesday when Australia’s Alex de Minaur withdrew with a hip injury.

The experience gap between the two men is stark: Musetti, 22, will be playing the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career. Djokovic, 37, will equal Roger Federer’s record number of men’s singles semifinal appearances at Wimbledon with 13.

“He probably knows the surface and the stadium better than me, that’s for sure,” said Musetti, who delivered the understatement with a smile.

Musetti has had plenty of time to study the grass over the past 10 days, although that may not be a positive thing. The Italian’s win over Fritz was his second in five sets of the tournament, and he goes into Friday’s clash with 15 hours and 53 minutes on court, while Djokovic will be relatively fresh.

The Serb has spent a brisk 10 hours and 6 minutes on court and has had an extra day to rest his knee, which underwent surgery on June 5. He also has a career record of 5-1 against Musetti and recently came back to beat the youngster after trailing 2-1 at the French Open – three years after Djokovic came back to beat Musetti after the Italian had led 2-0 and crashed out in the fifth set at Roland Garros.

Musetti may be looking forward to seeing Djokovic play on grass.

On Wednesday he moved well enough in a battle in which Fritz rarely deliberately deviated from the back line.

Fritz was also vying for his first Grand Slam semifinal spot, and was the best player after winning the title in a grass-court warm-up tournament in Eastbourne, England, en route to Wimbledon. He was trying to erase the sting of a quarterfinal loss here in 2022, when he lost a thrilling five-set marathon to Rafael Nadal, and said he was nervous in the opening set on Wednesday.

If he was nervous to start, it didn’t show. The 26-year-old from California started strong, dictating points with a good serve and great groundstrokes.

Musetti, to his credit, tried to add some variety to his game against Fritz. The Italian is one of the rare players on tour who uses a one-handed backhand, and he is capable of mixing slices and drop shots and shots that change the shape of a rally, not just the tempo.

His touch wasn’t agile enough in the first set, he kept hitting the ball into the net, but he kept going. Eventually it frustrated Fritz.

“That’s probably something I say, I felt worse, how can I say it, for the other guys that they didn’t have the same shot every time,” Musetti said. “Especially with a good baseliner like Taylor, if you play flat every time, I can’t win a point.”

Fritz said he struggled with the wind on Course 1 and found it difficult to play his power game against Musetti’s diverse shot selection. The American said earlier this week that he prefers grass because it rewards hard hitting right away, making it worth taking the risk of putting maximum power into a single groundstroke.

But between the conditions that affected his serve and the subtle variation of the ball he was getting from Musetti, Fritz couldn’t find his rhythm. Musetti didn’t have to play the finest match of his career. He just had to keep Fritz guessing.

“I felt like the biggest thing was, when I’m playing against someone who plays like him, I really have to be able to set up and generate power, really be able to control where I want to hit the shot,” Fritz said. “I have to be really precise because you can’t hit the ball as hard when you’re playing the dead slices.”

Fritz will try to bounce back at the Paris Olympics, which begin later this month. However, he is concerned about an injury he sustained at Roland Garros. It affects him more when he slides on clay than when he moves on grass.

He said he has a sports hernia, which often occurs in the groin or lower abdomen.

“It was a lot better because I don’t slide on grass,” Fritz said. “It’s more of an injury that really bothers me when I slide, where my legs go a lot apart.”

As for Musetti, he’s looking forward to his seventh meeting with Djokovic as a more mature, experienced and gifted player than he was the last time they faced each other at the French Open. He called Wednesday’s victory the best day of his career, a win he attributed to all the lessons he’s learned from losing to players like Djokovic in the past.

“Probably [those] Losing to all the great champions made me think, made me work harder,” Musetti said. “Today’s win is probably the result. I think I can have a chance with [Djokovic] the next round.”

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