This past week, Lorenzo Musetti had a first-time appearance at the Italian Open any player would dream of, beating two former top-four players in Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in consecutive matches to reach the round of 16.
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The Baseline Top 5: Notable ATP Italian Open debuts
Lorenzo Musetti followed in the footsteps of others who made a strong first impression.
Published Sep 20, 2020
It was a strong debut performance at one of the sport’s most prestigious clay-court tournaments. Here’s a look at some other players who made a splash when they first competed in the Italian city and eventually made their way to a place at or near the top of the rankings—a path the 18-year-old Italian will try to follow. (Photos: Getty Images)
Mats Wilander 1982 semifinals
Having won the French Open boys’ title in 1981, great things were predicted for Wilander for the 1982 spring clay-court stretch. After quarterfinals in Madrid and Hamburg, which bookended a 2-1 showing at the World Team Cup, the young Swede reached the semifinals in Rome, where he fell to Andres Gomez. It obviously was the perfect prep for his next tournament, the French Open, where he became the youngest-ever male Grand Slam champion at 17 years and nine months.
Boris Becker 1984 semifinals
While Becker’s path to the International Tennis Hall of Fame was largely built on his fast-court success, he could also play well on the clay. A few weeks before his record-setting run at Wimbledon, the German teenager made his first big splash on the dirt by advancing to the Italian Open semifinals, winning four matches in straight sets before 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah stopped him.
Sergi Bruguera, 1989 semifinals
In his first-ever match in Rome in 1989, Bruguera wore down two-time tournament champ Andres Gomez in three hard-fought sets. Buoyed on by that win, the 21-year-old Spaniard won several more matches to reach the semifinals, with his run including a 6-1, 6-1 victory over world No. 11 at the time Jimmy Connors. After that tournament, he reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros, the tournament that would eventually define his career as a two-time major champion.
David Ferrer, 2003 second round
Though the 21-year-old Spaniard only advanced to the second round, what matters is what he accomplished in his opener. Facing Andre Agassi, the world No. 1 and defending champion, Ferrer bounced back from a 6-0 first-set loss to take the second in a tiebreak. Coming into the match on a six-match losing streak, the world No. 60 snapped the skid by taking the decider 6-4 and clinching the victory of his burgeoning career.
Rafael Nadal, 2005 champion
The 2004 clay-court season was basically a lost one for the teenager from Mallorca, Spain, due to injury. He made up for lost time a year later: By the time the 2005 Italian Open rolled around, Nadal had already won four titles on the dirt that year. Nadal continued his winning ways in Rome, taking the title—his second Masters win in a row—in his first appearance at the tournament.