Big serve? Check. Big forehand? Check. Grass-court form? Check.
Matteo Berrettini is shaping up as a serious contender at Wimbledon.
The Italian has arguably been the breakout story of the last few years, winning his first title in 2018 and rocketing up the rankings since. Two of his five career wins have come on grass and both were won in a fashion that suggests he will be a danger on the surface for the few years ahead. In Stuttgart in 2019 he blazed through the field without dropping serve and facing only two break points. At Wimbledon that year he reached the fourth round – beaten in straight sets by Roger Federer – and on his first grass appearance since then he won the Cinch Championships at Queen’s Club in dominant fashion.
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He only lost his serve twice all week, dropped just one set, and didn’t face a break point in the final against Cameron Norrie. Add to that it was his debut at the tournament and it makes for a very impressive week.
The last player to win Queen’s on his debut was a 17-year-old Boris Becker in 1985. A few weeks later he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.
Could Berrettini do the same? There’s no doubt that he has the game to do damage on grass. His serve is huge and his forehand is destructive. He is also a decent volleyer and his backhand slice gets bite on the surface.
“It was ‘take-the-racket-out-of-your-hand’ kind of stuff,” admitted Norrie after his defeat in the final.
“It was similar to [Milos] Raonic's kind of level for me. The couple times I have played Raonic, I didn't really get a chance at all. Yeah, [Berrettini’s] service games were rolling by very quickly.”
Raonic, who also possesses a monster serve and big forehand, has made two quarter-finals, a semi-final and a final at Wimbledon. His final appearance came in 2016 when he upset Federer in five sets in the semis. That same year Djokovic was beaten by another big-hitter, Sam Querrey, in the third round, as he was looking to move a step closer to the Golden Slam, just as he is this summer.
When the top seeds have suffered surprise exits at Wimbledon in recent years it has often been to players with a powerful weapon. From 2013-2015 Djokovic was pushed to five sets by Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro, while Federer lost to Anderson in a marathon match two years after going down against Raonic.
Berrettini seems better placed now to make an impact at Wimbledon than he did in 2019. Reflecting on his loss to Federer two years ago after winning Queen’s, he said: “I took it in a way that it wasn't about my tennis. It was about my mindset. I just saw my idol at the other of side of the net, and I couldn't focus. I was just overwhelmed.
“That was fine because I'm human, and the next time that I play him and in general when I played like important match I was definitely more ready, and I knew what could happen and I made it not happen.”
Berrettini’s record on grass is 17-5 and his run at Queen’s included a straight-sets win over Andy Murray, who was asked about the Italian’s chances at Wimbledon.
"I don't know really. I think from the serving perspective, yeah. He has a huge serve. Obviously I played against him a couple years ago and seen his matches. You know, he has that big weapon, and that always gives you opportunities in matches, especially on this surface. Usually Wimbledon is slightly slower than the courts at Queen's. But, yeah, he has a big game.
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"Just depends how well he can return and how his groundies hold up right at the highest level, because I wasn't playing at the highest level today. He serves huge and it's obviously very tough to break him, but he's going to have to do well on the return games and that's something that I think so far is something that at the top, top level has maybe held him back a little bit. That's something that he'll need to improve if he wants to win one of the majors, I think."
The 25-year-old’s best Grand Slam runs so far are reaching the semi-finals of the US Open in 2019 and the quarter-finals of the French Open this year. He was beaten by Djokovic in Paris, having pushed the world No 1 hard and threatened to cause an upset as the match developed. His form over the last month sees him head to Wimbledon on an upward trajectory.
“Now I have a lot of confidence,” he said after Queen’s. “Like I said when I came before this tournament, I know that I'm playing well. I played a lot of matches. I am pushing myself, all the conditions and stuff. I'm really happy the way my mindset is, because I'm really focused.
“I know that I can play good in Wimby. I know that the conditions are different, it's best-of-five. I think all the players have a little bit extra motivation, you know, when you go to a Slam for so many reasons, but I couldn't think of anything better than this going to Wimby.”
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