Find Out What Has Spurred Matteo Berrettini's 2019 Surge
It would have been easy for Matteo Berrettini to mentally break on Saturday evening. Despite having a two-sets-to-one lead, the Italian appeared in trouble against Alexei Popyrin. The #NextGenATP Aussie won a titanic 10-deuce game at 5-5 in the fourth set of their third-round match at the US Open, appearing poised to run with the momentum into a fifth set.
But Berrettini did not panic. Instead, the 23-year-old remained calm, broke back, got off to a cracking start in the tie-break and moved through to the Round of 16 at Flushing Meadows for the first time.
“I was talking to my manager before coming here and I told him I didn’t complain. I was maybe too tired to complain,” Berrettini told ATPTour.com, cracking a smile. “I just thought about being ready, because I was ready to win that game like I did, and I was ready to go to the fifth. If you burn some energy complaining, then for sure [you] won’t be ready for a fifth set.”
That moment in a nutshell is representative of why Berrettini has enjoyed one of the biggest breakthroughs into the Top 25 of the ATP Rankings this year. The Italian was World No. 57 when he lost in straight sets in the first round here last year against a lower-ranked Denis Kudla. Currently 25th in the world, Berrettini cracked the Top 20 in June, and he has earned all three of his Top 10 triumphs in 2019.
“Last year, I wasn’t mentally focussed. It wasn’t about my tennis,” Berrettini said. “For sure I’ve improved a lot. I had a lot of new experiences, new matches, so for sure I improved. But yeah, I think I wouldn’t have been able to win this match [against Popyrin].”
The mental game has been a major part of Berrettini’s efforts throughout his development. About five years ago, he began working with Stefano Massari, a mental coach. And Vincenzo Santopadre, one of Berrettini’s coaches, said he believes that his improvement mentally was one of the most important reasons his charge was able to recover against Popyrin.
“First of all, he won this match mentally,” Santopadre said. “The thing I liked the most is the way Matteo reacted after he got broken. That time I think was really difficult to find the energy mentally to stay on court like he stayed. That game was unbelievably long, unbelievably hard mentally and also Matteo’s level was a little bit down with the serve. He could’ve complained and instead he had an unbelievable reaction.
“I also think if there would’ve been a fifth set, I’m really sure Matteo would have been able to perform well. He was not losing confidence, and that’s the key to becoming a champion.”
Something that has helped Berrettini’s mental approach of late is his confidence. Before the season, he had 19 tour-level victories and one ATP Tour title. In 2019, Berrettini has won 32 matches and lifted two ATP Tour trophies.
“When you are winning, you take confidence and it’s easier sometimes to work, to suffer. And then you can see that your work is paying off,” said Santopadre, who has worked with Berrettini for about nine years. “Our philosophy since a long time and also with Stefano in the past five years is not going together with the results. The results are just something that is coming with certain work and certain passions.”
But those results have also given Berrettini new opportunities, leading him to new experiences that have also aided his surge. The Italian made the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at Wimbledon this year, and now he’s made it to the Round of 16 at two consecutive Slams.
“I did a lot of new matches, I played a few matches more in Slams, so it helped me a lot during the match to focus on what was important,” Berrettini said. “I had a lot of chances, but I was talking to myself and saying to think about the next point. If you think too much about the chances that you had, maybe you can be stuck a little bit and you can lose an important point and the match is going to be tougher.”
The end of the Popyrin match was not all that has impressed Santopadre this week. The coach was also pleased with Berrettini’s effort in a tough four-set win in the second round against Aussie Jordan Thompson, who has also had his best season yet.
“Matteo didn’t play his best tennis. His level was so-so. He didn’t feel some sensations. He didn’t feel so confident because of him, because of Jordan. But he was there anyway,” Santopadre said. “Even if he didn’t play his best tennis, he was there every point.”
Thompson had never previously played Berrettini at tour-level. But the Italian’s level and improvement was no surprise to the Aussie.
“I think last year I saw him play and I was amazed how big his serve was and how big he is and how big he can hit the ball,” Thompson said. “He’s a good player, so it was no surprise how quickly he improved.”
What makes Berrettini’s mental fortitude even more valuable is that he has plenty of game to go with it. Berrettini entered the US Open fifth on the ATP Tour in service games won this year, holding serve 87.7 per cent of the time. Through four matches, the No. 24 seed has won 90 per cent of his service games in New York. Most of that success comes from a big serve that comes raining down from his big frame, with a booming forehand to back it up.
“His forehand is good. When he’s got his position, he can hit it to both sides of the court and you can’t really read it. Usually I can sort of read where the person is hitting but with him I had difficulty reading it at the start of the match. And his serve is also a weapon,” Popyrin said. “When he comes in, he comes in well. He’s got a big presence at the net, so it’s not that easy to pass him. You see him coming in and you want to pass him from the first shot, so that’s why you do those mistakes that I did… his forehand is a weapon. His forehand is one of the best forehands I’ve played.
“That forehand was heavy. Even the forehands he hit in the middle of the court, they were forehands I could attack off, but I couldn’t. Usually I could attack those forehands that came into the middle of the court, but with his I couldn’t. They were just really, really heavy forehands. It had so much spin on it and so much pace on it.”
The scary thing for the field is that Berrettini is still finding his groove in New York, after an ankle injury took him out of Gstaad and Montreal. Berrettini will look to harness both his physical and mental games on Monday when he plays Andrey Rublev for a spot in his first Grand Slam quarter-final.
“It’s important to think about my next matches, about my career, but it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing because I’ve been through a lot of things: injuries, practices, a lot of things during these years,” Berrettini said. “It’s important to be proud of ourselves during this trip, because it’s not just about playing tennis. It’s about life, so that’s really important. I’m going to cheer for this win for sure tonight with my team, and then tomorrow we are going to think about the next match.”