As we head into the deep end of this year’s French Open, much has been said about the potential challengers that can stop Rafael Nadal from lifting a 14th Roland Garros title. Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev are viewed as the frontrunners to challenge the Spaniard.
On Monday, much was made about the future stars of Italian tennis. Lorenzo Musetti pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets and Jannik Sinner was in position to serve for the first set against Rafael Nadal, before eventually succumbing to a straight sets defeat. However, the current highest ranked Italian male has quietly made his way through the draw. Despite receiving a free pass into the quarterfinals, courtesy of Roger Federer, it is surprising that there has not been more discussion about Matteo Berrettini considering the Italian’s form.
Matteo Berrettini in 2021
A Brilliant Start to the Season
Berrettini headed into 2021 on the back of a disappointing 2020 season. The Italian failed to make it beyond the quarterfinals of any tournament he played in. He also failed to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, after qualifying for the event in 2019. After losing to Alexander Bublik in Antalya in the first ATP Tour event of the season, Berrettini represented Italy in the ATP Cup. He led his team to the final, winning three of his four singles matches and producing arguably the best tennis of his career. The match that was particularly impressive was his complete dismantling of Dominic Thiem, where the Italian produced an incredible of display of offensive tennis.
Berrettini continued his fine form at the Australian Open. aHe came through a difficult draw to make the fourth round, playing the likes of Kevin Anderson and Karen Khachanov in the first week. This set up a fascinating fourth round meeting between Berrettini and Tsitsipas that had the potential to be the match of the tournament. However, in a cruel twist of fate, Berrettini was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an abdominal strain.
Bouncing back from injury and success on the clay
Berrettini returned to singles action in Monte Carlo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was defeated in the opening round by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, with the Italian showing signs of rust. However, a fortnight later Berrettini won the fourth title of his career in Belgrade, defeating Aslan Karatsev in the final.
In Madrid, Berrettini continued to prove his clay court prowess. The Italian his first Masters 1000 final, losing a tight three-setter to Alexander Zverev in the final. En route to the final, Berrettini defeated two of the best clay court specialists in the men’s game, Cristian Garin and Casper Ruud. Although he was not able to win the title, the improvement in the Italian’s game was clear to see. His backhand looked more solid and consistent–as well as being able to hit with power, Berrettini has an effective slice backhand that has added more variety to his game. I am interested to see how effective this shot will be in his quarterfinal against Djokovic and during the grass court season.
A Genuine Contender
Wednesday’s night match between Berrettini and Djokovic will be the first night session match held in front of fans at Roland Garros, and the crowd of 5,000 inside Court Phillipe Chatrier will be in for a treat. Although Djokovic has been playing a high level, the Serb struggled to cope with the shot-making ability and the variety of Lorenzo Musetti. Berrettini may not play with the flare of his fellow Italian, but he has more weapons in his game. Berrettini’s first serve and forehand are two of the biggest shots in men’s tennis. When you consider the improvements made to his backhand, the Italian will be a big threat to Djokovic.
An interesting tactic to look out for will be whether Berrettini is able to use the backhand slice the same way as Musetti. Musetti was able to trouble Djokovic by getting the ball deep in the court in order to neutralize the Serb’s ground stokes. If Berrettini can do this, then he can get his powerful forehand into play. Another factor is the success that the Italian has had on this surface throughout his career. Three Berrettini’s four ATP titles have come on this surface. I think the Italian can take heart from Djokovic’s troubles in the fourth round. Due to Federer’s withdrawal, Berrettini will be the fresher of the two players. This is an important factor, even though Djokovic is one of the fittest players in the game.
Time to take Matteo Berrettini seriously
Whatever happens, it is time that more people view Matteo Berrettini as a genuine contender in the Grand Slam and Masters 1000 events. With many fans and the media already being keen to talk up the future of Italian Tennis, it is important that the Italy’s current best player is given his fair share of credit and respect.
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