© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Matteo Berrettini beats Federico Delbonis in straight sets to reach the Madrid quarter-finals.

Berrettini's Road From Painful Sneezing To The Madrid QFs

The Italian reflects on his recovery from an abdominal injury

Just a few months ago, Matteo Berrettini felt pain in his abdominal region even when he sneezed. Now, the Italian is on a six-match winning streak and into the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open.

“I’m really happy. At the same time, it is not something that came so easily,” Berrettini said. “I had to work really hard. I'm still working really hard. Every match is a fight. I'm really putting a lot of effort to be able to be mentally ready.”

Berrettini got off to a strong start in 2021, leading Italy to the ATP Cup final and advancing to the fourth round at the Australian Open. But he did not play that match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to an abdominal injury, which kept him out until Monte-Carlo, where the 25-year-old lost his opening match.

But then the Italian impressively lifted the Serbia Open title in Belgrade, and he has maintained his momentum in Madrid. Getting to this point, however, has been difficult.

“It's an injury that I still feel. It's really tricky. Mentally you have to be strong, because you have to know that you're fine. But at the same time, you have to be careful. I'm working every day with my team in order to get better, to feel more confident,” Berrettini said. “It's crazy because after three days [when] I got injured, I could do a crunch with my abs, but I couldn't turn. When I was getting in the car, when I took flights, I was struggling. I was feeling it. When I was sneezing, I was feeling it.”

Less than a month after getting hurt in Australia, Berrettini was able to hit balls again. It wasn’t straight back to normal, though. His abdominal region would hurt and he would get “really tired” quickly during training.

“I couldn't serve for a long time. Even in Miami, I wasn't serving 100 per cent. That's why I didn't play,” Berrettini admitted. “It was really tricky, but at the same time, mentally it was great work, a great effort. Now I guess [that is] why I'm feeling good now.”

Berrettini faced a tricky foe in qualifier Federico Delbonis on Thursday. But the eighth seed remained calm in a 7-6(4), 6-4 victory at the Caja Magica, where he had already defeated Fabio Fognini this week.

“I think you could tell today it was a really tough match decided by really [just a] few points. The difference was, I was ready. I was ready to get the important moments, to play and to serve and to return good in important moments. That's what I was looking for,” Berrettini said. “At the end of the day, that's what makes you win a match or lose it.”

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Less than a month after making his return in Monte-Carlo, Berrettini is looking like the star who qualified for the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals. The highest-ranked player remaining in the bottom half of the draw, the Italian will next play 16th seed Cristian Garin, who upset second seed Daniil Medvedev.

“Obviously I came here with a lot of confidence. I wasn't expecting like, ‘Okay, I have to make the quarters, semis, whatever.’ I play match after match. Now I have a quarter-final in front of me,” Berrettini said. “It's going to be a really tough match. Cristian is playing well. I'm confident. I'm playing good. I'm enjoying the fight. I'm ready to fight.”

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