For Matteo Berrettini, This Wimbledon Was Years in the Making
WIMBLEDON, England – Matteo Berrettini made his appearance this summer.
A 24-3 streak that started with a title in Belgrade, Serbia, continued through to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where seventh-seeded Berrettini will face 14th-seeded Pole Hubert Hurkacz on Friday for a place in the men’s singles final.
It has been a long and steep climb for Berrettini since he arrived at a tennis club in Rome at the age of 14 and has been impressed with the credentials of the coach he has met: Vincenzo Santopadre, whose the career singles ranking was 100th.
“I started with him when I was 14, and thinking about being in the top 100 was crazy for me,” Berrettini said in an interview. “His best ranking was # 100, and I was looking at him like, ‘Wow, that guy is awesome!’”
Berrettini was not one of the best Italian players in his age bracket, and Santopadre and the other coaches at Circolo Canottieri Aniene wanted to give him the time and space to decide if tennis was something he wanted. seriously pursue.
“I wanted to wait until he decides to become a tennis player because sometimes there are young people who start too early to become professionals,” said Santopadre, who still coaches Berrettini more than a decade later, in an interview. “I wanted him to know he wanted to be a tennis player.”
At Berrettini, Santopadre saw a player able to break the mold of the typical Italian tennis player who relies on high-spinning forehands on clay courts, and he “tried to force him to be less conservative in his game”.
Berrettini attributes his early belief to Santopadre’s vision for where his career has gone.
“One of the best things I’ve done in my career is that I really trusted Vincenzo when I was younger,” Berrettini said. “He looked at me and saw that I was getting taller, that I was getting tall, and he said to me, ‘Look, you’re going to be an aggressive player. You are going to serve bombs and try to earn the point as soon as you can.
Santopadre said that while many young players returned to tactics that enabled them to win games at the junior level, Berrettini was committed to the style of first-strike, high-reward tennis that Santopadre wanted him to play.
“He told me that one of the best things we did was understand that there was a long-term plan to be a really good player,” Santopadre said. “He didn’t care about the results when he was younger; he just wanted to improve. His mentality was all about it.
As he reached 6ft 5in, Berrettini’s physique was refined to make him a powerhouse: listed at 209 pounds, he is the heaviest player in the ATP top 20, over 10 pounds heavier than the player. next.
Berrettini, who leads the remaining players at Wimbledon with 57% of his first serves unreturned, said he had gained confidence knowing he “can serve for five hours”.
“That’s what we worked on: we tried to be explosive, strong, powerful,” Berrettini said. “That’s what I like to do. In tennis, you have to be ready for anything, long rallies too, but these are the weapons we tried to have. Right now, I’m really glad I trusted them.
Where Berrettini has failed to gain volume, he says with a self-deprecating laugh, is below the knee, leaving it unusually heavy for a tennis player.
“That’s why I play with ankle braces, because my ankles and calves are very thin and fragile,” he said. “My family is like that: it’s genetic. I can do nothing. I work on my calves, I swear, but it looks like I don’t. I do, and nothing.
But despite this small disappointment, Berrettini increasingly enjoys what he sees in himself, growing more confident since strong outings in Grand Slam tournaments in 2019 culminated in a race to the semi-finals of the US Open.
“And then after the US Open I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, when you’re on like that, when your guns are working, when your state of mind is there, you’re really dangerous. And after that, I felt it.
While the top-ranked Novak Djokovic remains the big favorite in the first half of the draw, Santopadre said Berrettini’s assurance that he belongs to the top echelon of the sport has become as formidable a weapon as his powerful serve and forehand.
“The best thing now is that he knows full well that he is a top player,” Santopadre said. “His awareness of this has improved a lot. He feels comfortable with the best players. He knows he can win against everyone. He knows he can win a Grand Slam title.
Berrettini, who arrived at Wimbledon as the popular pick to reach the final after winning the nearby warm-up event at the Queen’s Club in London, said after more than a decade of reconfiguring expectations of what could be possible, he and Santopadre feel he’s ready to win this tournament.
“I believe it, and my team believe it,” said Berrettini. “It took us a little while, but now everyone is looking in the same direction, and it feels good.”
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