In the build up to Wimbledon last year, I wrote an article discussing his chances of winning the tournament. Fast forward to this year’s Australian Open – Matteo Berrettini has now made four consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. The world #7 is now a fearsomely consistent player across all surfaces, silencing the doubters labelling him as “one-dimensional”. As the first Italian male to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open, Berrettini is on the cusp of making even more history in Melbourne.
Matteo Berrettini: Grand Slam Consistency
By reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne, Berrettini became the only man born in the 1990s to have reached the quarterfinals of every Grand Slam. Quite the achievement considering the calibre of players in this category. In fact, since the 2020 French Open, Berrettini has lost to just one man at Grand Slams: Novak Djokovic.
The Italian was unfortunate enough to meet him three times at the Majors in 2021: the French Open quarterfinals, Wimbledon final and the US Open quarterfinals. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw from his fourth round encounter with Stefanos Tsitsipas with an abdominal injury at the Australian Open.
Each time the Italian took on the world #1, he took a set and pushed the Serb commendably. What was most striking was how well he played in the French Open quarterfinal. The Italian struggled in the first two sets, but won the third and was very close to sneaking the fourth too. Djokovic’s reaction after sealing the match was telling – he was really tested.
Due to the nature of his one-two punch game, many were confident Berrettini would excel on the other two surfaces. This quarterfinal run on clay said a lot about how well he can adapt his aggressive style. Right now, he is one of the best there is on grass courts. His excellent run to the Wimbledon final last year showed just this – and he more than played his part in a four sets loss to Novak Djokovic. His phenomenal serve and follow up forehand are match-winning, and could well be Wimbledon-winning. It would be no surprise to see him take this Grand Slam in the near future.
As for the hard court Grand Slams – he’s already made the semifinals of the US Open and a further quarterfinal. In Melbourne, he looks right at home in the semifinals. It’s safe to say that he is one of the most consistent players in the world across all surfaces.
The Backhand “Weakness”
By now you will have heard all about what he does well: big serve, big forehand. The combination is a frighteningly dangerous weapon, but there’s more to his game than this. His movement for his frame is exceptional, as is his ability to remain steady and clutch in the big moments.
Fans and pundits alike often criticize the Italian’s backhand, calling it a weakness that will prevent him from being a top player. While his forehand is significantly stronger than his backhand, to claim it’s a huge weakness in his game would be incorrect.
There have been significant improvements in this shot over the off season, and it’s evident when you watch him play. He’s hit 33 backhand winners and 99 forehand winners so far this tournament – a smaller margin than some would expect I’m sure. He’s also hit more backhand winners match-by match, showing his growing confidence off this wing. These are his winner stats (excluding aces) from each round:
Brandon Nakashima: 3 backhand winners, 16 forehand winners.
Stefan Kozlov: 5 backhand winners, 26 forehand winners.
Carlos Alcaraz: 6 backhand winners, 16 forehand winners.
Pablo Carreno Busta: 9 backhand winners, 18 forehand winners.
Gael Monfils – 10 backhand winners, 23 forehand winners.
This is just his total winners so far. The backhand slice he possesses can be an excellent tool to dig him out of trouble when he needs to. It can knife through the court very effectively, and when it finds it’s mark it sets him up to win the point brilliantly.
The main issue surrounding his weaker side is the consistency. His backhand broke down during sets three and four against Monfils, but his fight and determination powered him through the final set. Considering the improvements he’s made in such a short amount of time, it won’t be seen as a weakness for much longer.
An Almighty Showdown With Nadal
Despite the backhand improvements, there are players who can expose it better than others. One of these players is his semifinal opponent Rafael Nadal, who is two wins away from winning a 21st Grand Slam title.
This is a hugely tough match-up for the 25 year-old. He’s played great opponents so far, but perhaps none that can nullify his weapons as well as the Spaniard can. Despite everything Nadal has endured recently, he’s played incredibly well against all odds and will be hard to stop.
What can Berrettini do to make the final? He has to serve lights out – and even better than he already has this tournament. Nadal isn’t quite the returner he once was, but the Italian has to hit his spots consistently. His returning has been solid, and with Nadal serving so well, things could get interesting if we see tiebreaks.
Berrettini has the game to trouble Nadal, but he has to be on top form and his backhand cannot faulter. He won’t be able to protect this shot as much against Nadal’s topspin, so it will have to be reliable throughout the match. If he can execute everything well, then there’s a chance we could be seeing the first Italian male in an Australian Open final.
However this semifinal plays out, we know for certain that Matteo Berrettini is one of the top players on tour across all surfaces. His consistency will see him remain in the top 10 for a long time, and he surely has the potential to reach the top 5 and beyond.
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