Lorenzo Musetti has broken through to his first ATP Tour final at the Hamburg European Open behind a Saturday semi-final victory against the red-hot Francisco Cerundolo. The #NextGenATP Italian dominated the first half of the contest but navigated a nervy finish to secure a 6-3, 7-6(3) victory.
"It means a lot for me," Musetti said of reaching his first tour-level title match. "It's a surprise for me because I was not playing my best tennis last week [in Bastad], so I didn't expect to be in the final here."
On his first match point at 5-4, A/40 in the second set, Musetti's underarm serve backfired as Cerundolo reacted quickly to force a difficult, low volley. But after falling behind 1/3 in the tie-break, the 20-year-old closed the match how he started it, dominating proceedings to win the final six points.
"It was not easy because he was playing really good. I was playing under pressure," the Italian said. "I saw him so far from the baseline on the ad side. I don't know why I did the underarm serve, but it didn't work. At the end I didn't take the option of the underarm serve. I went for the kick and serve-and-volley and it worked. So I'm really happy."
Musetti extended his winning streak to eight consecutive sets on the Hamburg clay after his comeback win against Dusan Lajovic, in which he saved two match points in the opening round. Cerundolo saw his eight-match winning streak, dating back to his Bastad title, ended.
After battling through three deuces to hold in the opening game of the match, the Italian raced to a 5-0 lead in the opening set and then led 2-0 in the second. Musetti was able to neutralise his opponent's powerful forehand with strong hitting off both baseline wings and dogged retrieving when stretched.
From 1-3 down in the second set, Cerundolo began to find the range on the forehand that has propelled him on his recent run. Hitting the corners, he levelled at 3-3 but then committed a few untimely errors to immediately hand the break back.
Still, he was able to force a tie-break behind more powerful forehands as Musetti failed to serve out the match. Cerundolo appeared to be locked in as he took the lead in the tie-break, but Musetti rediscovered his top form to advance to his first tour-level final in style.
The Italian has moved up 22 places to No. 40 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings this week, setting himself up to improve upon his previous career high of No. 51 in the next edition of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
An all #NextGenATP final could be on the cards, should 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz get past Alex Molcan in Saturday's second semi-final.
Musetti is bidding to become the third Italian man to lift the Hamburg trophy after Fabio Fognini — who earned his 400th match win earlier this week — and Paolo Bertolucci.
"It's really an honour for me to get compared to two legends of Italian tennis like Fabio and Paolo," Musetti said. "I will try my best to lift the trophy. For sure it's not going to be an easy final because Carlos or Alex, they are both really tough opponents."