Matteo Berrettini withstood an impressive comeback attempt from Gael Monfils before beating the veteran Frenchman in a crowd-pleasing five-set match to reach his first Australian Open semi-final.
Monfils rallied from two sets down but Berrettini recovered to win 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2 on Rod Laver to set up a semi-final against Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had outlasted Denis Shapovalov in another epic five-setter earlier. Berrettini is the first Italian man ever to reach the last four at the Melbourne Grand Slam.
“I thought I had him in the third, then I found myself in a fifth," Berrettini said after a match that ended at nearly 1 a.m. local time.
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Berrettini looked headed for a routine win when he took a 2-0 lead after coming through an epic game that lasted nearly 20 minutes before the Italian managed to hold for 2-2 in the second set.
The game featured three break points for Monfils, 10 deuces and several spectacular rallies that brought the crowd to their feet in appreciation. Berrettini finally closed it out with a service winner and then ran away with the second set, breaking for a 4-3 lead before serving it out to love.
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But the 35-year-old Monfils, backed by a supportive crowd, refused to surrender. The Frenchman saved three break points before holding for 2-1 in the third set, then finally earned his first break for a 4-2 lead when Berrettini double-faulted for the first time in the match.
He broke again for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set and then converted his fifth set point in the 10th game to level the match.
But Berrettini roared back, breaking twice to take a 4-0 lead in the fifth set, and there was no way back for Monfils this time. The Italian converted his third match point when Monfils netted a forehand.
Trying to explain the different momentum swings of the match, Berrettini said the humidity on the court made the first two sets much tougher on his body than the scoreline would suggest.
"I was really tired," Berrettini told Eurosport. "And the first two sets were really tough, especially that (20-minute) game. It took me a lot of energy and when I felt I couldn’t break him in the third, that game was the turning point. Then he started to play more aggressive, to hit the ball harder, to serve better. And I just felt that I couldn’t be that aggressive, especially when I was returning. And then I struggled a little bit, and you tennis, how it is. Then I said to myself in the fifth, I have to fight every single point."
The crowd was loudly backing Monfils for most of the match, and a couple of supporters crossed the line. One fan was asked to leave during the fifth set for repeatedly yelling out when the players were serving, and another fan shouted an apparent obscenity at Berrettini during his on-court interview after the match. But the Italian shrugged it off.
“It’s full of people, and I like it," he said. "Some of them are not really tennis fans I think. But it is it what is, you know. You cannot control everybody. I think to be respectful is something you have to do anyway. But it’s fine, I win, I’m happy.”
Berrettini is looking for his first major title after losing in the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic last year. But he has never beaten Nadal, losing to the Spaniard in their only meeting in the US Open semifinals in 2019 -- when he had also beaten Monfils in five sets in the quarters.
"I'm pretty sure it’s going to be a great fight," Berrettini said. "He played five sets as well today, so he needs to rest as well."
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