When he was told by the on-court interviewer Tom Rinaldi that he’s in the final four, an incredulous smile escaped Matteo Berrettini. He had just gone through an emotional rollercoaster, taken to a physically demanding five sets, which lasted almost four hours, by the athletic Gael Monfils. Berrettini had needed five match points to final shake him off and record a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win at the US Open quarter-finals.
“Right now I don't remember any points, just the match point,” said Berrettini, who entered his first Grand Slam semi-final, before adding, “I have to be honest, I remember the double fault as well.”
The double fault, in question, came when the big Italian was serving for the match at 5-3 in the decider. A match point up at 40-30, Berrettini missed a first serve and then sent down a nervous 76mph second that didn’t make the mark. It was the first double fault, for either player, in the set. Monfils capitalised on the wobble, ripping a forehand across the court on the next point and winning his break back after Berrettini drilled a forehand into the net.
On a humid New York day, with the roof closed and the intensity locked in, the two men fought through the fatigue. Monfils and Berrettini scripted some stunning points, and threw in generous errors to keep the match, and the drama, alive. The big Italian, still new to the glitzy Grand Slam stage, saw two more match points come and go. Monfils was holding on to his knee, leaning on to his racquet between points but was still hanging in there.
"I was checking my heart beating during the match. I was, like, 'Oh, what's happening?'” Berrettini said. “Do you think you can practice these kinds of feelings? I was saying to myself during the match, 'What do you expect? — I mean, you're 23. Just playing your first quarter-finals and you expect that you not get tight?'”
The Italian shrugged off the missed chances, happy that he held them rather than his opponent. In the fifth set tie-break, Monfils served a couple of double faults to help Berrettini to a 5-2 lead. The Italian went up 6-4 after moving in at the right time during a long rally and finishing it off with a deft forehand volley. The Italian had fluffed a few of those during the course of the match, underplaying them. But this one perfectly flopped across the net; drawing a desperate fist pump from Berrettini. Monfils saved the fourth match point with an ace. But Berrettini served big on the next point, and followed closely the arc of Monfils’ return till it dropped just long. He collapsed on to the court in exhaustion and relief.
“In that moment if you start to think about other stuff that are not important, you start to complain, you start to think negative, then for sure you're going to lose the match,” Berrettini said. “That's the thing that I'm most proud of, you know. That's what I learned.”
According to those who have closely followed his progress, it is this emotional change in the Italian that has helped him break through this season. The Rome native has won two ATP tour titles this year, broke into the top-20 briefly in June having started the year at 52, and made the fourth round at Wimbledon Coming into the US Open though, his hard-court record stood at a dubious 11-18.
The Italian has flipped the script in New York with his new-found confidence.
Standing at 6’5, the broad-shouldered Berrettini plays the big man tennis, his serves booming, his forehand falling like a hammer. He had cut short Andrey Rublev’s comeback quest with a display of utter power in the fourth round. New York City has the biggest population of Italians in North America and not a few of them have come out to support the rampaging Berrettini.
The 23-year-old compared the atmosphere at Arthur Ashe to a ‘football stadium’. And though he took his time to settle in against Monfils, who was scripting a fairytale run of his own this US Open, once the Italian found his forehand in the third game of the second set, he rarely backed down. After going down 0-2 in the second set, he won 12 of the next 15 games. The Italian, who had seven winners to 14 unforced errors in the opening set, corrected it to 29 winners and 20 errors in the next two sets.
Playing only his first quarter-final, Berrettini was also made to overcome a few distractions. Right from the second set, the 33-year-old Monfils looked drained and took his time between points. He also stopped play after losing serve at 1-2 in the third set and requested for the stadium lights. Three games later, with Berrettini leading 4-2, the stadium roof was closed, leading to another 10-minute delay.
Even as the match swung one way, then another, Berrettini kept his chin up, head down and wasn’t afraid to go the distance with the very elastic Monfils.
“What a great fight. I think it was one of the best matches I maybe ever saw - I was playing, but I also saw. I'm really proud of myself,” said Berrettini after becoming only the second Italian man – since Corrado Barazzutti in 1977—to make the US Open final four. He better believe it.
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Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 12:10:41 IST