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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Italian imposition isn't invoking personal fear factor, says Novak Djokovic. 

Lately, the Grand Slam king has felt one invading force threaten the throne: The Italians.

More: Alcaraz Out of Monte-Carlo with Arm Injury

Four of Djokovic's last five losses have come against Italian opponents.

Jannik Sinner saved three match points stunning the Serbian superstar 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the Davis Cup semifinals last November before leading Italy to the Davis Cup championship.

In Melbourne, Sinner dethroned defending champion Djokovic in a four-set triumph en route to his maiden major title at the Australian Open.

Lucky loser and world No. 123 Luca Nardi shocked Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in Indian Wells last month to make history as the lowest-ranked man to ever defeat Djokovic in a Masters 1000 or Grand Slam match.

Still, the world No. 1 says there is no fear factor ahead of his Monte-Carlo rematch vs. talented Italian Lorenzo Musetti.

"I'm not scared of anything and anybody, but I really hope that I can get the chance to play him again, get the matchup, another matchup here," Djokovic told the media in Monte-Carlo today. "He obviously is, you know, one of the most talented players on clay, a beautiful one-handed backhand.

"He's very athletic. He can do a lot of great things. He's one of the most promising young players not only from Italy but generally for the world."

In a fierce and unruly clash between Monte-Carlo residents last April, Musetti broke eight times shocking Djokovic 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 for his first career win over a reigning world No. 1 to secure his spot in the Rolex Monte-Carlo quarterfinals.

Facing the Grand Slam champion he had never beaten, swirling conditions that wreaked havoc on ball tosses, a rain-delay at the start of the final set and draining physical rallies after play resumed, Musetti held his nerve and stung two of his six aces in the final game to close an emotional triumph.

"I'm struggling to not cry because it's really an emotional win," Musetti said in his on-court interview. "Because it was a really long match, three hours of match, suspended because of the rain.

"For sure, it was not easy conditions, it was a bit windy at the beginning and cold so not like we're used to playing in the last days. So I  think it counts maybe twice. So I'm really, really, really proud of myself. I can see that on the screen and I'm struggling not to cry because it's still a dream for me."

Two-time Monte-Carlo champion Djokovic speaks fluent Italian, trained in Italy during his younger years and says he feels sharper ahead of this Musetti rematch. Djokovic dropped just three games thrashing Roman Safiullin in his Monte-Carlo opener.

"Yeah, let's see. Let's see how it works," Djokovic said. "I like the way I played my first match comparing to the first match last year. I feel much different, more ready, so whoever is across the net, I'm hoping I can deliver my best game."

Musetti calls this rematch "a beautiful match" coming one year after his Monte-Carlo stunner on the same court in the same round.

"It's kind of fun, because it's exactly one year, because it's same tournament, same round, and same spot," Musetti said. "So hopefully will be a nice match, but of course, as I said before, would be a lesson, for sure, in both ways. If I lose or if I win, doesn't really matter, because, you know, playing against a champion like Nole, there is always something to learn and to, you know, to take.

"So really looking forward now to, you know, have one day off, and then enjoy the beautiful match upcoming with Nole."

Photo credit: Matthew Calvis