In the latest edition of Players’ Voice, Italian star Matteo Berrettini opens up about the new-found pressures that have come as a by-product of his success, and how he has been forced to adjust and adapt to them, both on and off the court.
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The last year has been complicated for a million reasons, and extremely tough on so many people around the world. The pandemic has caused so much sadness and changed aspects of life that everyone, including myself, took for granted. On a personal note, on the tennis court, things have also been changing for me. The expectations placed on me have increased to new levels, and that has been exciting but also challenging at the same time, as I guess most new things are.
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Back in 2019 when I reached the fourth round of Wimbledon to face Roger Federer on Centre Court, it was a massive result for a player like me who had never made it that far in a Slam. Then with that, my ranking started to build, and a year later at the 2020 US Open, a fourth round was perceived as ‘not enough’. Not for what I had achieved the year before; not for what I had become.
I did not find it easy getting used to the sudden pressures of climbing the rankings so quickly. For me, I was tiptoeing, but suddenly felt like everyone was waiting for me to go faster. It is as if you have chosen a path, but that path suddenly becomes another. Imagine it this way: you are walking along a side road at your own pace, but it suddenly merges into a highway and everything travels so fast; you have to adapt immediately or otherwise you will be overtaken.
When you get near the top, there is so much more you have to deal with, and not just tennis, but personal things too. Before, my life seemed much simpler; I go to the court, I play tennis, I think about winning. Today, there are so many more things to think about: managing expectations, those of others as well as my own, but also maintaining my relationships.
Even with my family and friends, things change as I don’t see them anywhere near as often, and that’s tough to get used to. That led to the realisation that tennis can take you away from the life you were once used to. It can feel as though you’re transported to this sort of dimension, where it’s just you and your results. It takes time to readjust to that and get used to a new reality. There are players who take longer to adjust, while others need less time. For me, family and friends mean so much in life, and that’s maybe why it is taking me a little longer to get to that point.
The higher you go, the more complicated things get. Because in addition to all of your worries about the technical and physical aspects of your game, which are fundamental, you have to also train the ‘boss’, as they say in Rome, the head.
I’ll give you another example: you can go onto the court to train and do the minimum, or you can train by making yourself out of breath. It’s all in the head; it’s the way you approach every morning when you wake up that makes all the difference. You have to activate your head to really level up.
Matteo Berrettini overcomes Gael Monfils in five sets to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 US Open
Image credit: Getty Images
I often get asked, "Do you ever look back?" and I say, "Yes, that’s beautiful, but I want to look ahead." I’m also working on that too, because having only performance-related goals can sometimes be a dangerous thing. In the end, the real goal is balance; between where you started and where you want to go; between the stimulus of the work and the joy of doing it; and above all, not forgetting why you’re here.
I play tennis because I like it. It’s about striking that balance between wanting to evolve and be better, but at the same time staying attached to who you are. It’s not easy, but it’s what I’m trying to do.
My on-court dreams remain the same: winning the Italian Open and, of course, a Grand Slam. These are not easy things and it’s not enough to just want them or commit yourself to achieving them; there are so many other factors and it can be a tough path. But I believe I am on the right path; I don’t feel that I am light-years away.
Despite the last 12 months or so being full of ups and downs with personal injuries, it has been nothing compared to what the world has been going through. I wish the world will return to be a happy place to live, grow, improve and where everyone can leave behind all the difficulties and suffering that this pandemic has caused.
Highlights: Berrettini blasts past Khachanov in three tie-breaks
Looking ahead on the court, I look forward to hopefully bringing happiness to fans, to feel that adrenaline once more of being able to excite and inspire people of all ages. With that extra incentive, I hope my results will speak for themselves.
Things have really been thrown into perspective and I feel extremely privileged and lucky to be in the position I am. I can only hope it brings at least some distraction, positivity and happiness to people.
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