Berrettini On London Debut: 'I Didn't Expect To Be Here'

Italian will face Djokovic in his first match at The O2

As the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals began, Matteo Berrettini was outside of the world’s Top 50. The Italian had dreams of one day reaching that level. But doing so this soon? The 23-year-old admits that getting to compete with the best in the sport at The O2 is a pleasant surprise.

“For sure I didn’t expect to be here at the beginning of the season, even a few months ago,” Berrettini said. “After the US Open, everything changed a little bit. I’m the kind of guy always pushing myself to be better; to be a better person, better player, so that’s what I did. I didn’t expect to be here this early in my career, but what can I say? I’m happy.”

The rest of this year’s Nitto ATP Finals field finished 2018 inside the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings. But Berrettini did not worry too much about the players or rankings around him. He focussed on his own game every day, and steady improvements have helped him put himself into this elite group.

“I think I always learned something about all the experiences that I did off court and on court. I was asking my team what we can do better when I was winning and [when] I was losing. I’m the kind of guy pushing myself more and more. I want to be better every day. I want to be a better person, better player,” Berrettini said. “When I cracked the Top 20, I could have said this was good for me. I was happy, I was proud, but not enough. I kept pushing, I kept improving, I kept putting myself in more difficult situations and I’m learning a lot.”

Berrettini earned his first ATP Ranking point when he was 19. This week’s top seed, Rafael Nadal, won 16 tour-level titles before turning 20, and claimed his second Grand Slam title just days after his 20th birthday. Berrettini, meanwhile, was unable to win a 21-and-under Italian tournament two years ago to earn a wild card into the Next Gen ATP Finals.

“There were players that were doing better than me when I was younger, but I never looked at them like something [I had] to achieve early. I was thinking about me,” Berrettini said. “For sure I was thinking about myself and about my road and about my team. I trust my coach every day since day one. Tennis is a tough sport. Every week is different. Maybe you did great weeks or a great season and the year after is tough. So I was saying to myself, ‘Improve yourself, learn from what you’re doing and you’re going to be better.’ That’s what happened, I think.

“These guys here at 19, maybe they were already Top 10, so I’m kind of late. But I wasn’t feeling the pressure, I was just enjoying what I was doing and maybe that’s the secret, because I’m here.”

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This season specifically, Berrettini believes there are various parts of his game that he has improved. The three-time ATP Tour titlist made his biggest breakthrough at the US Open, where, backed by his powerful serve-and-forehand-based game, he reached the semi-finals.

“I think my backhand is more solid now. The way I move on the court. You have to play against the best players in the world to improve, so that’s what the goal was at the beginning of the season,” Berrettini said. “We were just thinking about playing the biggest tournaments and then I played that Challenger between Indian Wells and Miami and it was great because it was a really high level. There were like more than 10 guys [in the] Top 100, so it helped me to get some confidence and for sure my serve and my forehand were great.”

Berrettini may be making his Nitto ATP Finals debut, but he is not shying away from the moment. The Italian is eager to get started, with his first match on Sunday against five-time champion Novak Djokovic.

“I’ve never played him, so it’s going to be all new: the atmosphere, the finals, him. It’s going to be a huge, huge experience, a huge moment for me for my career. But like I did the previous years, I’m really looking forward to learn something, [I am going] to put a lot of effort [like I did] to put myself in this situation,” Berrettini said. “For sure I’m stepping on the court thinking about beating him, but we’ll see what’s going to happen.”