As the 2021 season began, top Italian Matteo Berrettini was under pressure to win matches quickly. Otherwise, he would see a serious drop off in ranking once the 2019 points freeze ends due, to a poor 2020. An excellent 2019 saw him reach the US Open semifinal. Berrettini went from outside the Top 50 to finishing the year with the Top 8 players in the world at the ATP Finals. He rode the momentum to start 2020, bowing out in the second round of the Australian Open. That would be the only tournament he played before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down tennis. His results were similarly disappointing once tennis returned. Berrettini entered five tournaments, reaching just one quarterfinal.
After a good showing at this year’s ATP Cup, Berrettini withdrew from the Australian Open before his fourth-round match due to an abdominal injury, a scare on top of a groin injury that kept him out for several weeks in 2020. Something flipped when the clay season began, though. The Italian completely changed his form by winning the title in Belgrade followed by his first ever final in a Masters 1000 event. He has not been talked about much as a dark horse at Roland Garros, but his play and dangerous game make him a serious threat.
Matteo Berrettini on Clay
Casual fans will assume Berrettini is best on hard courts. His best Major performance came at the US Open, and his tall frame makes him appear to be a serve and volley type that excels on hard. It is quite the opposite in reality. Berrettini won three of his four career titles on clay, in addition to his two other career finals on the surface. He has won over 70% of his career matches on clay. Coming into this week, he had won ten of his last 12 matches on the surface. His last two losses on clay this year came against Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, two of the most dangerous players in the world.
French Open Outlook
By winning his first two matches in Paris, Berrettini has already equalled his career-best result at the French Open. He beat Taro Daniel comfortably in the first round, though he dropped one set where he struggled to win points on return. His second round match proved he will be a contender. He lost just eight games in the match against Federico Coria, hitting 46 winners to 31 unforced errors. He matches up well with Soon-woo Kwon, and if he can get past the Korean he will likely face Roger Federer. It is hard to know what Federer will bring with his limited match time, but Berrettini should have a serious edge based on his recent elite play. If he wins, the Italian can advance to just his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
If he is able to reach the quarters, he will likely face the top seed Novak Djokovic. Djokovic has been hard for anyone to stop at Slams, and will be heavily favored against the Italian (or anyone else). However, he did show some vulnerability on clay, losing to Dan Evans and Aslan Karatsev in consecutive tournaments. The odds Berrettini can beat Djokovic are low, but if he continues to keep his winners-to-unforced errors ratio high, his powerful strokes can frustrate Djokovic and potentially give him an opening. Berrettini has a real chance to make the quarterfinal, which would be an excellent result. If the stars align, he has a chance to go even further.
Matteo Berrettini has not been on many fans’ radars this week, especially with countryman Jannik Sinner stealing most of his thunder. There is a reason he is the top-ranked Italian and a recent Masters 1000 finalist, and the Italian should be viewed as a serious danger in the coming rounds.
Main Photo from Getty.