Over the past year, Matteo Berrettini has been one of the most consistent players at the Grand slams. The Italian was only beaten by Novak Djokovic over the best-of-five sets format in 2021. On each occasion that those two players met–in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, the Wimbledon final, and the US Open quarterfinals–the Italian took the opening set. Barring at the Australian Open last year, where Berrettini was forced to withdraw from the tournament before his scheduled fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to a groin injury, the Italian has made at least the quarterfinals of each Majors in the past twelve months.
This consistency was rewarded at the end of last season, where Berrettini qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. However in a cruel twist of fate, the same injury that forced him out of the Australian Open forced him to withdraw from Turin after the opening set of his first round robin match against Alexander Zverev. Now fully fit, the Italian has started 2022 strong, by producing some of the best tennis of his career so far.
Matteo Berrettini at the 2022 Australian Open
Battling Through a Difficult Draw
It is fair to say that Berrettini has been well tested in his run to the semifinals. Indeed, the Italian has dropped at least one set in four of the five matches he has played thus far. On two occasions, against Carlos Alcaraz in the third round and in his quarterfinal match against Gael Monfils, the Italian has come through in five sets after winning the opening two sets. The other opponents he has beaten to get to this stage were Brandon Nakashima, Stefan Kozlov, and Pablo Carreno Busta.
The key to Berrettini’s success this tournament has undoubtedly been his first serve. In each match, the Italian has won over 70% of points on his first serve. The lowest percentage of first serve points won was 73% against Nakashima in the opening round. The highest percentage of first serve points won thus far for the Italian was a staggering 86%, which unsurprisingly came in his only straights sets win of the tournament, his fourth round win over Pablo Carreno Busta. If he continues to serve this well, he will undoubtedly prove a difficult opponent for even the best returners in the sport.
A Tough Test Ahead
Berrettini faces Rafael Nadal in the first men’s semifinal. The pair have met once before, which coincidentally was also in the semifinal of a Grand Slam, at the 2019 US Open, where Nadal triumphed 7-6 (6) 6-4 6-1. It is important to understand that this was Berrettini’s first Grand Slam semifinal, and since then he has reached the final of Wimbledon and a Masters 1000 final in Madrid. Thus, the Italian will be better equipped and more used to handling the big occasion.
Rafael Nadal has been playing some inspired tennis thus far this tournament. However, like the Italian, the Spaniard was pushed to five sets in his quarterfinal match with Dennis Shapovalov. Berrettini will have to serve well in order to have a chance against Nadal, looking to get his forehand into play. However, Berrettini must also ensure that he uses variety on the backhand side. The Italia has a strong backhand slice, which he should use as well as his topspin backhand, which has improved since the 2019 US Open semifinal.
In the Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic, Berrettini overplayed the topspin backhand, which led to him becoming predictable. Although this match is being played on a different surface, against a different opponent, it is vital that Berrettini does not become predictable and is tactically astute. This is a real chance for the Italian to make his second Grand Slam final, and I believe he has the game to win the tournament.
Whether he wins or loses, Matteo Berrettini has solidified himself as a well established member of the top ten. If he continues to play the tennis that he has produced at the start of 2022, then there is no reason why the Italian cannot win big titles and move up the rankings. Berrettini is a strong player and a force to be reckoned with on all surfaces, and 2022 promises to be another successful season for the Italian.
Main Photo from Getty.