When Frances Tiafoe and Lorenzo Musetti met in Forli, Italy, two weeks ago, the 22-year-old found himself under attack from the start.
Carrying the momentum from a breakthrough run at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome, the 18-year-old Musetti employed an all-out assault of backhand winners, drop shots and dominant serving. Tiafoe had no answer in what was his first clay-court match in more than a year.
Two weeks later, the Maryland native ensured that history wouldn’t repeat itself. Same stage, same round, same surface, different result. Tiafoe drew level with Musetti with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win in Parma on Wednesday. He needed one hour and 42 minutes to secure the second-round victory at the Internazionali di Tennis Emilia Romagna.
After their second ATP Challenger Tour encounter, Tiafoe was already looking ahead to what he expects will be a long rivalry.
“I’m happy I won this one, but we’re going to have battles for years to come,” said Tiafoe after the match. “He’s an unbelievable player and Italian tennis is doing great with him, Sinner, Berrettini and Fognini. Hopefully they keep going.
“I didn’t want to be down 0-2 against him, so I battled hard. So did he. There were some tight points at the end, but I got it done.”
On this day, Musetti was not as sharp from the back of the court and Tiafoe took full advantage. The top seed established a more consistent rhythm, converting two of three break chances, while capitalising on the colder and faster conditions.
Tiafoe is targeting a return to the Top 50 of the FedEx ATP Rankings as the 2020 season enters its final months. The former World No. 29 is finding his legs on clay after reaching the Round of 16 at the US Open in in early September.
“I was much higher ranked, but I need to play these tough matches and get my ranking back up. These are the events you have to play to get there.”
Tiafoe will next face another Italian – qualifier Filippo Baldi – in Friday’s quarter-finals. A quartet of former ATP Tour champions also reside in his half of the draw, with Federico Delbonis facing Paolo Lorenzi and Philipp Kohlschreiber battling Marco Cecchinato.